Hávamál 96-102


“For Billingr maid’s love”


***Hávamál 96***


A translation as literal as possible


I experienced all this

when I was sitting in the reeds (or among the stones)

hoping for my love;

flesh and heart

was for me the wise maid;

although I did not get her,

Prose explanation


I experienced all that (is said in the preceding stanzas) while I sat in a wild place, stone heaps or reed tufts, while waiting to meet my love. This wise maid was for me flesh and heart. I was however unable to win her, on the contrary she succeeded in fooling me.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Ţat ek ţá reynda                           Thiat I then experienced

er ek í reyri sat                              when I in the reed (or the stones) sat

ok vćttak míns munar;                  hoping for love mine;

hold ok hjarta                                flesh and heart

var mér in horska mćr;                was for me the wise maid;

ţeygi ek hana at heldr hefik.         although not I her but I have.




96. This found I myself, | when I sat in the reeds,

And long my love awaited;

As my life the maiden | wise I loved,

Yet her I never had.


[Bellowsnote 96. Here begins the passage (stanzas 96-102) illustrating the falseness of woman by the story of Othin’s unsuccessful love affair with Billing’s daughter. Of this person we know nothing beyond what is here told, but the story needs little comment.] [My comments below show thatfalsenessis totally inappropriate and that the story does deserve comment.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


The expression í reyri means in or among the reyrr, and the word reyrr most often means ‘reed’, and seldom ‘cairn, heap of stones’. All the translators see Ódhinn among reeds, which supposes he is in a boat or swimming or lying in the mud. The boat would be most probable but that does not appear very typical of Ódhinn. On the other hand, this regular traveler could stop at a mountain pass, for example, and sit down among the rocks. There exists still nowadays in Iceland seldom used roads where each traveler builds a small a cairn near a remarkable spot.

The verb vćtta (or vćtna) means ‘to hope for, to wait for’. The form vćttak, used here, is a contraction of vćtta ek (I wait). By assimilation with the preterit of sat in the second line, reynda and vćtta are read as being in past tense.

The noun munr, according to C-V, can mean ‘mind, delight, loveor ‘the turn of the balance’. All can make munar in the genitive: the text does not give grammatical means to separate them.

The verb hafa meansto have, to obtainand hefik meansI obtain’.


Comment on the meaning


Thatin the first line refers to the few stanzas before. They describe the difficulty of love relations. They already have shown how much important is women’s beauty to Ódhinn and he also acknowledged being able to make a fool of himself when in passionate love. Many legends report of a god having love affairs with a woman, for instance in the Greek myths, and we are used to see him taking advantage of his godly powers to reach his goal, i.e., most often, having sex with this woman. Here, we see a god, anxious as a young man waiting for his first date, and who acknowledges his passion. Nordal’s interpretation, given below in Evanscomment illustrates bias of someone trained in Greek culture. The proper meaning of munr beingmind’, we can even propose a reverse interpretation to Nordal’s: the one that Ódhinn was waiting for the soul of his beloved instead of nothing more than the ‘satisfaction of his desire’. Since Ódhinn says that she was “flesh and heart” for him, the true understanding must be that he was waiting for her soul and her body.





The story told in 96-102 is not otherwise known; Billingr occurs twice elsewhere as the name of a dwarf. The ek of the story is shown by 90 to be Óđinn …

Most editors interpret 96 as describing a tryst at which the girl has failed to turn up. This entails taking munr as ‘beloved person’, for which cp. munr Foglhildar as a kenning for Jörmunrekkr in Ragnarsdrápa 6 …and possibly at muni grata Baldrs Draumar 12 … Nordal, however, suggests that the waiting in the reeds comes after the events described in 97-8, and takes munr as ‘satisfaction of my desire’.


***Hávamál 97***


A translation as literal as possible


Billings maid

I found on (her) beds

sleeping, shiny as the sun;

a jarl’s delight and luck

no other thought in me

except to live near this body.


Prose explanation


I found Billings maid, lying on her bed where she was sleeping, shiny as the sun. I had no thought of a jarl’s (a kind of Scandinavian nobleman) delight and luck or cosiness, except living beside such a body.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Billings mey                       Billings maid

ek fann beđjum á               I found beds on

sólhvíta sofa;                      sun-white sleep;

jarls ynđi                            a jarl’s delight (and luck or cosiness)

ţótti mér ekki vera             thoughts mine not be

nema viđ ţat lík at lifa.      except near this body ‘atlive.





97. Billing’s daughter | I found on her bed,

In slumber bright as the sun;

Empty appeared | an earl’s estate

Without that form so fair.


Commentary on the vocabulary


- mćr meansa girl, a maidand does mey in the accusative, as here. When her sexual attraction is emphasized, she becomes a man. In the next stanza, Billings mćr will speak of herself as being a man. (see also stanzas 82 and 92)

- ynđi is a neutral noun meaningchance, delight, coziness’. Among its possible grammatical cases, the plural accusative seems most probable.

- líki means body, as already seen in stanza 92. It can also take the meaning of ‘shape; formas Bellows translates it. Here, it is in the accusative i.e., the preposition viđ takes the meaning ofbeside, associated to’.


Comment on the meaning


Ódhinn catch unawares the sleeping beauty, falls in love for her and, in the last three lines, claims that his passion is more significant than a lavish life.





1 Since the story is unknown elsewhere, it is not possible to say whether ‘daughteror ‘wifeof Billingr is meant, for both senses of mćr are well attested (LP). But the use of löstr [= flaw, misbehaviour] 98 and flćrđir [flćrđ = falshood, deceit] 102 makes the latter somewhat more likely. [In the context of this stanza, it seems even more probable that this mćr is simply the Billings mistress. She speaks of herself as a man, and if one gives to löstr the weak meaning ofmisbehavior(instead of sin or vice - as if these Christian concepts could apply), all these words apply to a mistress who does not want yet anothermasterin her life.]


***Hávamál 98***


A translation as literal as possible


“Also near the evening

you shall, Ódhinn, come

if you will request a mistress for you;

all (we both) are fateless (dead)

except if (us) alone are aware

of our misbehavior.”


Prose explanation


Wait for the evening, Ódhinn, to come and find me back, and ask me to grant my favors to you. This is not immediately possible because we are not alone. If we are not the only ones to know our misbehavior, our fate would stop here.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Auk nćr aftni                   “Also near the evening

skaltu, Óđinn, koma,         you shall, Ódinn, come

ef ţú vilt ţér mćla man;    if you will for-you request the girl

allt eru ósköp                     all are without-fates

nema einir viti                    except if alone become conscious

slíkan löst saman.”            of such a misbehavior together.”





98. “Othin, again | at evening come,

If a woman thou wouldst win;

Evil it were | if others than we

Should know of such a sin.”


Commentary on the vocabulary


aptni = aftni = dative of aptan = evening.

The verb mćla meansto speak, to stipulate, to request’. Here, the context drives us to a meaning like ‘to gain with words, to successfully require’, but Ill argue in favor ofto require, to claim’: Ódhinn’s real purpose is not forgaining the beautiful one with soft parolesbecause Billings mćr straightforwardly invites him to join her during the night, he will have no more to do than claiming what she is offering.

The neutral name man takes many meanings, as explained in stanzas 82 and 92. It means a liege man/woman, a mistress.

The neutral word skap makes sköp in the plural. In the singular, it means ‘form, ‘state, condition. In the plural, it takes the meaning of “what was formatted” and becomes ‘fate, fortune. It is prefixed here by the negation ‘óand we can understand it means ‘not-destiny, not-fortune or ‘death’.

The adverb nema meansexcept, save’.

löstr = ‘flaw, misbehavior, vice’. Here, in the singular accusative case: löst.


Comment on the meaning


Billings mćr calls herself a man, i.e., she fakes being as eager as Ódhinn for having sex together. She speaks of her behavior as a ‘flawor, at least as ‘misbehavior’. I suppose that her aim is to definitively convince Ódhinn to leave her quiet for the moment by promising to give him more pleasure next night. Her trick will fully succeed. We should ask why she thinks it necessary to resort to such a trick. I do not see another reason than Ódhinn has been so insistent that she fears to be raped if she tersely refuses. We will see in 102 that Ódhinn seems to have, afterwards, well understood that his haste pushed Billings mćr to mislead him in such a way. This is shown by the expression “ef görva kannar” and the new translation we give for it in s. 102.

She is certainly a crafty one.Cheateris even a little strong as long as she is trying to keep her freedom of having no unwanted sex. She is certainly norunfaithfulnorfickle’. This still substantiates again our interpretation for brigđ (‘cutting, sharprather thanfickle’) as we saw in stanza 84.





3 mćla man - apparently ‘to win a woman through speech but exact parallels are lacking.

5 einir viti - we would expect ein vitim; Finnur Jónsson emends accordingly. [I translated einir viti by “alone become conscious” and Jónsson’s proposal amounts to translate by “us alone would become conscious.”]


***Hávamál 99***


A translation as literal as possible


Back I turned

and I believed myself in love

from the knowledge of (her) good-will;

I was really thinking of that

that I should have

all her mind and her pleasure.


Prose explanation


I went away from her and I thought that I was going to love her since she had shown her goodwill (her agreement). Thinking of all that I believed I was going to get from her all her spirit and her pleasure (or her love).


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Aftr (=aptr) ek hvarf                       Back I turned

ok unna ţóttumk                            and to love I believed myself

vísum vilja frá;                               knowledge of good-will from

hitt ek hugđa                                  (strongly of) that I thought

at ek hafa mynda                           that I have should

geđ hennar allt ok gaman.             mind hers all and pleasure.





99. Away I hastened, | hoping for joy,

And careless of counsel wise;

Well I believed | that soon I should win

Measureless joy with the maid.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The verb unna meansto grant, to love’.

The verb ţykkja meansto seem, to be taken for’. It does ţóttum at first plural person preterit and thus meanswe seemed’. The reflexive form ţóttumk meansI thought myselfas we already saw in stanza 47 (auđigr ţóttumk = I thought myself rich).


Comment on the meaning


My translation of the second line is very similar to Bellows’: Ódhinn confess his lack wisdom when he left believing in his success with the maid. Orchard strongly interprets, but keeps the idea that Ódhinn realizes that he lost something: “I turned back … from some delight.” Inversely, Dronke and Boyer understand that Ódhinn is satisfied with himself. Dronke: “beyond known bliss” and Boyer: “(I turned back)… with my hard craving.”





3 visum vilja frá - generally taken closely with the preceding line to mean ‘out of my senses(‘I was distraught with love…); Commentary 119 Finnur Jónsson says vili here is more or less forstand (‘understanding, reason’ ). No parallel, however, can be adduced. Kock 2, 279-80 plausibly proposes that vili means ‘what one desires, joy(cp. Sigsk. 9); thus, ‘I turned back... from certain delight’. Finnur Jónsson’s objection that this would require af instead of frá is baseless, but it is true that line 2 seems a little feeble when left thus isolated. [As you could read, I understand that Ódhinn says that he got “the knowledge of (her) good-will.”]



***Hávamál 100***


A translation as literal as possible


Thus I came near

when it was in the night;

all kind of soldiers were awake

(carrying) burning lights

and they carried wood,

I understood thus my path of misery.


Prose explanation


I then came near Billingr’s home, but in the night, his warriors watched over in the light of the flames, carrying "wood", i.e., torches or lances or barricades. I then understood into which way of misery I moved.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Svá kom ek nćst                            Thus came I near

at in nýta var                                 while in the night was

vígdrótt öll of vakin,                      battle-folk all ‘ofawake,

međ brennandum ljósum               with burning lights

ok bornum viđi,                             and carried wood,

svá var mér vílstígr of vitađr.        thus was to_me misery_path ‘ofbeen_conscious.





100. So came I next | when night it was,

The warriors all were awake;

With burning lights | and waving brands

I learned my luckess way.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The only ambiguity in the vocabulary is here that of bornum viđi. The name viđr meanstree, wood’ and does viđi in the singular dative. The verb bera meansto carry’. It does borinn in the personal last participle and bornum in the dative, as it is here. This “wood carried” might be a torch, a spear, an arrow or, still, if it has been carried to the site, the stakes of a barricade.


Comment on the meaning


Thus the house in which Ódhinn believed to have a loversdate with Billings mćr is well watched over and he cannot join his beautiful maid. But he nevertheless keeps hope and he will, next morning, become aware of how insulting is the fun played with him.





5 bornum viđi - it is unclear what this is. Some take it to refer to the same thing as brennandum ljósum, i.e. torches … Olsen … accepts this, … however, (he) takes bornum to mean ‘(previously) carried in (and now lying ready for use)



***Hávamál 101***


A translation as literal as possible


Also near the morning,

that I was again to come

when the house-folk was in sleep;

I found there a lone greyhound

at the good woman’s place

bound on the beds.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Auk nćr morgni,                           Also near morning,

er ek var enn of kominn,                that I was still ‘ofcome

ţá var saldrótt sofin;                     when was house-folk in sleep;

grey eitt ek ţá fann                        a lone greyhound I there found

innar góđu konu                            at the good woman’s

bundit beđjum á.                            bound on the beds.




101. At morning then, | when once more I came,

And all were sleeping still,

A dog found | in the fair one’s place,

Bound there upon her bed.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The name grey is neutral and meansgreyhound’. This is in agreement with the neutral form of the last participle of binda (to attach), bundit. It may mean a dog or a bitch.


Comment on the meaning


We can suppose that this greyhound is a bitch and Evanscomment explains why.

It is thus true that Billings mćr deliberately sought to humiliate Ódhinn. We, as spectators, we may think that he well deserved it, and that it should have applied the advice he gives in stanza 90: we should not attempt controlling a woman by whom we want to be loved… a fortiori, avoiding to force her. The wise one became a fool and was not able to make use of his own wisdom, as far as he had been carried by his passion. This exactly what stanza 94 tells us.

It seems that the commentators have been reluctant to accept that Ódhinn may confess his weakness towards women, and calls himself a fool. It is also true that the gods we know of are not often intelligent to the point to self-criticize. How possibly could such a primitive god as Ódhinn be able to behave like any sensible and clever person?





5 góđu is of course ironic, as probably in the similar phrases in 102 and 108 and perhaps in 130 ;..[Evans is certainly right to speak of irony, though irony towards whom? This irony can be addressed to her, who actedbad’, or to himself because he has been naive enough to believe that she would begoodfor him. In the following stanza, we will see that the irony is not as primitive as Evans seems to suppose. In 108, it is obvious that Gunnlödh has actually been good for him. In 130, the woman who will love Loddfafnir in secrecy is certainly not a good Christian woman… but she is not Christian either.]

6 beđjum á: not ‘tied to her bed… just as in 97, this expression means on, or in, the bed … The implication of these lines is no doubt that Óđinn is being offensively invited to sate his lust, not on the girl whom he expected to find awaiting him, but on the bitch who has replaced her.



***Hávamál 102***


A translation as literal as possible


More than one good maid,

if he clearly looks for her

(is) spirit-breaching (or feeling-breaching) with the man;

thus I that experienced,

when good suggestions,

I attributed to the deceitful woman;

of her shame (or her scorn)

this wise girl made mine,

and naught had I of this woman.


Prose explanation


For the man who approaches her and too clearly lets show his desires, more than one good girl will not have any tender feeling. I experienced that when I believed that the misleading woman gave me a good advice when she proposed me to join her at night. I shamed her with my proposals and the wise girl made mine her shame. I did not have anything of her.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Mörg er góđ mćr,                                     More than one good maid,

ef görva kannar,                            if clearly he looks for,

hugbrigđ viđ hali.                          spirit-breaching (or feeling-breaching) with man;

Ţá ek ţat reynda,                          thus I that experienced,

er it ráđspaka                                when good-advices

teygđa ek á flćrđir fljóđ;              drewI on the deceitful woman;

háđungar hverrar                          of her shame (or her scorn)

leitađi mér it horska man,             looked for mine this wise girl,

ok hafđa ek ţess vettki vífs.            and had I of her naught woman.





102. Many fair maids, | if a man but tries them,

False to a lover are found;

That did I learn | when I longed to gain

With wiles the maiden wise;

Foul scorn was my meed | from the crafty maid,

And nought from the woman I won.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The verb kanna meansto seek, to explore’. Lex. Poet. giveslustrareundoubtedly in the meaning ofto turn around(and not the one ofto purifyas in a lustration).

The name hugbrigđ is normally translated byfickleness’, but its primary meaning isto breachand hug-brigđ = spirit- breaching or feeling- breaching.

flćrđr = falseness, fraud


Comment on the meaning


Ódhinn is ironical when he describes a Billings mćr asgood(line 1) andwise(line 8). This type of irony however recalls W C Fields’s one when he utters his famous aphorism: “Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.” He, obviously, did not love too much children nor dogs. Similarly, Ódhinn’s irony, in appearance relative to Billings mćr, is also addressed to him, and nevertheless implies that this woman is indeed good and wise.

Even though he has been nastily tricked by her, Ódhinn does not spit insults at Billings mćr. He obviously learns his lesson and warns us: all women are not willing to offer themselves when undesired persuasion is applied to them. It becomes even worse when you offend them by wanting to force them. As Billings mćr who has been able to get rid of her shame by throwing it, instead of her body, in Ódhinn’s arms, their crafty spirit will find something to drown you in your own ridicule.





6 flćrdir means ‘treachery, deceit’, which, as Nordal observes, fits best if we suppose Billingr was the woman’s husband … [At the end of s. 97, I explain why I believe the mćr was Billingr’s mistress.]