After Ragnarök, Gimlé

The last eight stanzas (59-66)

These last eight stanzas raised many problems because many state that a large Christian influence is obvious within these stanzas. I give you below initially two recent translations, then a literal translation with added notes.

I cannot really have an absolute opinion though it is even more obvious that the arguments of the pro-Christian influences are not really convincing, and sometimes look like mere bigotry. Dronke, in her comments, manages to place 11 pages on the “Christian context” of the poem, which are a sequence of hazardous assumptions although they are based on a mass of academic knowledge. She sees Christian influences throughout poem whereas only the eight last stanzas might justify such an opinion. For example, she states that: “The image of the bleeding Baldr (31) and of the weeping mother (33), recall Christian stereotypes.” as if these images were reserved to Christian characters: they are universal stereotypes!

 

1. Two recent translations by American academics

 

Authors.

Ursula Dronke, a relentless promoter of Christianity in her comments though impeccably academic in her translations (Poetic Edda vol. II, Clarendon Press, 1997).

Andy Orchard, the most recent translation of poetic Edda, not expensive and very precise. (The Elder Edda, Penguin Classic, 2011)

 

In the translations, notation X/Y means: “The Norse word is translated either by X or by Y”

 

Dronke

Orchard

 

56.

She sees come up

a second time

earth out of the ocean

once again green.

The waterfalls flow,

an eagle flies over,

in the hills

hunting fish.

 

59.

 She sees rising

a second time

the earth from the ocean,

ever-green;

the cataracts tumble,

an eagle flies above,

hunting fish

along the fell.

 

 

 

57.

Æsir meet

on Eddying plains,

and discourse on the mighty

enmesher of earth,

and call to mind there,

the momentous judgements

and the Gigantine God’s

ancient runes.

 

60.

The Æsir come together

on Action-field,
and pass judgement on the powerful earth-coil,

and commemorate there

the mighty events,

and the ancient runes

of Potent-god.

 

 

Comments

 

Dronke sees a nominative iða = swirl; Orchard sees (?) a verb iða = to be agitated.

Iðavöllr is a traditional place of gathering of Æsir, a plain placed at the center of their fortress in Ásgarðr.

 

.58.

There will be once more

the miraculous

golden checkers

be found, in the grass

those that in the old days

they had owned.

 

. 61.

Afterwards there will be found, wondrous,

golden gaming-pieces

in the grass,

those which in ancient days

they had owned.

 

 

Comments

 

Höðr killed Baldr under the influence Loki.

Hroptr, can be “the Crier", always names Óðinn.

 

[Note that the völva obviously begins to be tired with Óðinn’ questions.]

 

 

59.

Without sowing

cornfields will grow-

all harm will be healed,

Baldr will come.

They inhabit, Höðr and Baldr,

Hroptr’s walls of triumph,

gods of the sanctuary.

 

Do you still seek to know? And what?

 

62.

All unsown

the fields will grow,

all harm will be healed,

Baldr will come;

Höd and Baldr will inhabit Hropt's victory-halls,

sanctuaries of the slain-gods:

 

do you know yet, or what?

 

 

 

 

60.

Then Hœnir picks out

the twig of augury,

and sons of the two brothers

set up their home

in the wide wind realm.

 

Do you still seek to know? And what?

 

63.

Then Hœnir shall choose

the wooden lots,

and the sons of two brothers

build dwellings

in the wide wind-home:

 

do you know yet, or what?

 

 

 

 

Comments

 

Hœnir is a name of dubious etymology. In stanza 18, “óð gaf Hœnir” (Hœnir gave the intelligence) to the first human beings, Ask and Embla. The substantive óðr, here in the accusative, means ‘intelligence’. Independently, the adjective óðr means furious and is the base of Óðinn’s name, ‘The Furious One’.

 

 

61.

A hall she sees standing,

brighter than the sun,

roofed with gold,

on Refuge from the Flames.

There shall the worthy

warrior bands dwell

and all their days of life

enjoy delight.

 

 

64.

She sees a hall standing,

more beautiful than the sun,

better than gold,

at Gimlé.

Virtuous folk

shall live there,

and enjoy pleasure

the live-long day.

 

 

Comments

 

A tentative etymology for Gimlé is gim-hlé, where gim = jewel/fire; hlé = shelter. Dronke comments on Gimlé possibly being a shelter against the flames of the Christian hell (?).

 

 

 

Not translated

 

[65.Then there comes the mighty one down from above,

the strong one, who governs everything, to powerfulness.]

 

 

Comments

 

Dronke leaves out the stanza known as 65th because she believes it to be a late Christian addition. Orchard puts it in between square brackets to indicate that this stanza is of disputable authenticity.

You see that Orchard refuses to use the classical translation, ‘last judgment’, for regindómr. This meaning is suggested in Cleasby-Vigfusson’s dictionary at word regin. This illustrates the fact that the 19th century scholars used to include purely Christian concepts to render Heathen ones. Boyer follows this old tradition in using “last judgment.” Regin means ‘the gods, the powers’. Dómr it is the judgment or the destruction. Thus regindómr is the “judgment or the destruction of the gods", which is very far the Christian “last judgment.” Even if, as Dronke postulates, this stanza is a Christian addition, the literal translation of 65 and 66 shows us that this addition is not as shortsighted as these old translations unable to see further than their Christian beliefs.

 

 

62.

There comes the shadowy

dragon flying,

glittering serpent, up

from Dark of the Moon Hills.

He carries in his pinions

-he flies over the field-

Malice Striker, corpses.

 

Now will she sink.

 

66.

Then there comes there the dark

dragon flying,

the glittering snake up

from Moon-wane-hills,

it bears in its wings

- and flies over the plain;

Dead bodies : Spite-striker.

 

Now she must sink.

 

 

 

Comments

 

Niðafiöllom:  nið = the waning moon, fjall = cliff, mountain. Can thus mean: “the falls or mountain of the waning moon.”

níð-högg = insult-stroke/slaughter. Can thus mean: “insult that strikes/slaughters.”

 

 

(almost) Litteral translation

 

 

Old Norse

Literal pseudo English

 

 

59. 

Sér hon upp koma

öðro sinni

iörð ór ægi

iðiagrœna;

falla fossar,

flýgr örn yfir,

er á fialli

fisca veiðir.

 

 

She goes up

other oneself

earth out of the ocean

very green;

fall waterfalls

flies the eagle above

on/near the cliff

the fish it hunts.

 

 

 

Comments

 

öðro sinni: “another oneself,” we could say ‘regenerated’. In the above translations it is rendered by “a second time.”

iðja - intensive prefix, ‘very’.

foss = modal of fors = waterfall.

 

 60. 

Finnaz æsir

á Iðavöllr

og um moldþinur

 

mátcan, dœma

oc minnaz þar

á megindóma

oc á Fimbultýs

fornar rúnar.

 

Have just met the æsir

on Iðavöllr [Swirl-Meadow ]

and about ground-pine_tree/ground-rope

[Yggdrasill/Jörmungandr ]

powerful, judge/chat

and recall

on the great judgments

and on Fimbultýr’s

ancient runes.

 

 

Commentaries

 

Iða = swirl, völlr = field/meadow, dat. sing. and accusative plur: velli. The accusative implies a movement.

mold = earth/soil.

About þinurr: in the traditional translations (as Dronke’s and Orchard’s), the translators read ‘þinull” = a rope bordering a net and this leads to Jörmungandr. The word itself þinurr = a pine-tree, and this leads to Yggdrasill.

The word þinurr is here in the accusative (þinur), this is why one must allot to it the nominative þinurr. I tend to believe that the Heathen times readers were perfectly able to catch the pun implied by the confusion of these two characters of their mythology. This is why I preserve the two meanings in the literal translation.

Fimbul-Týr=Powerful-Týr (here: Týr = a god, in other contexts it can indicate a hero or human or, obviously, the god Týr himself).

rúnar = accusative plural of rún, rune.

 

 

61. 

Þar muno eptir

undrsamligar

gullnar töflor

í grasi finnaz,

þærs í árdaga

áttar höfðo.

 

There will become later

marvelous

the golden figures of tafl

in the grass they find,

those which in the old days

of the family they used

 

 

Commentaries

 

 

For this stanza, the word order is very different from ours. Read: “They find in the grass the marvelous golden figures of the game tafl, the family ones, which they used during ancient times.”

Töfl are the figures of a game called Tafl often translated by ‘chess’. It has been reconstituted in a tactical play of encirclement which looks more as the Go game than chess.

hafa = to have/to use/(etc.), here in the plural preterit höfðu.

 

62. 

Muno ósánir

acrar vaxa,

böls mun allz batna,

Baldr mun koma;

búa þeir Höðr oc Baldr

Hroptz sigtóptir,

vel valtívar

 

vitoð ér enn, eða hvat?

 

They must not-sown

harvests to grow,

harm will all [all harm will] cure,

Baldr must come;

will live here Höðr and Baldr

of Hroptr victory-walls/sites,

of the great dead heroes.

 

Do you know more, or what?

 

Commentaries

Batna = to cure or ‘they cure’, what undergoes the cure is with the genitive like “allz böls .”

Hropts sigtoptir indicates Valhöll.

Valtívar = valley-tívar = death-gods = dead gods. Here, rather dead heroes. Understand: Höðr and Bald will join Valhöll.

ér vituð = you know.

 

 

63. 

Þá kná Hœnir

hlautvið kiósa,

oc byrir byggja

brœðra tveggja

 

 

vindheim víðan. -

 

Vitoð ér enn, eða hvat?

 

Then Hœnir knows

sacrificial lots to choose (to draw)

and a favorable wind [ to settle,

(those) of the brothers both ]

[ OR:…  they settle ]

those of the two brothers… ]

(in) the house of the large wind.

 

Do you (want to) know more, or what?

 

Commentaries

 

The stanza is ambiguous. We cannot decide if

1. Hœnir knows how to draw the sacrificial lots and how to settle (byggja) a favorable wind. The two brothers’ parents settle (tveggja) in the house of the large wind.

2. Hœnir knows how to draw the sacrificial lots. The two brothers’ parents settle a favorable wind and they inhabit the house of the large wind.

 

Hlaut-viðr = sacrificial-wood/tree. ‘To choose’ means here to draw lots. The sacrificial lots are carved on a small wooden plank or a rod.

Bróðir (brother) does brœðra in the genitive plural case.

 

It is not obvious to understand wherefrom Dronke and Orchard’s “sons of two brothers” come except as a rendering of brœðra genitive plural grammatical case. I translated in an ambiguous way: “Those of the two brothers,” without saying who they are.

In this context, the two quoted brothers are certainly Höðr and Baldr appearing in stanza 62.

The drama of the fratricide concocted by Loki and carried out by Höðr is obviously a capital element around which our mythology and the gods’ örlög are hinged. This is not obvious to us because of our different religious and moral values.

 

 

64. 

Sal sér hon standa,

sólo fegra,

gulli þacþan

á Gimlé;

þar scolo dyggvar

dróttir byggja

oc um aldrdaga

ynðis nióta.

 

A hall sees she rising,

sun more shining (shinier than the sun)

with gold as a roof

on Gimlé (Protection from fire?);

To this place the faithful ones go

people to settle

and for always

of delight to benefit.

 

 

Commentaries

 

Fegri = comparative of fagr, beautiful.

Dyggvar = plural of dyygr meaning faithful/trusty (C.-V. who specifies nevertheless dyggvar dróttir = “worthy, good people”); aldyygr = fidelissimus, dyggleikr = fidelitas, and nevertheless dyggr = utilis, bonus, probus, præstans (Lex. Poet.); dyggr = ‘zuverlässig, brav’ (trustworthy, good). As a summary, we can state that dyggr means either ‘faithful/trustworthy’ (first meaning) or ‘worthy’ (second meaning, chosen by Dronke). It does not mean ‘virtuous’ (as Orchard’s). In the discussion below, my argument will be based on the meaning ‘faithful/trustworthy’. The meaning ‘good’ could be used also but my point which is the Heathens could be faithful to their gods would not apply.

 

 

65. 

Þá kømr inn ríki

at regindómi,

öflugr, ofan,

er öllo ræðr.

 

Then arrives him powerful

at the gods’ judgment,

magnificent, coming down,

who on all advises.

 

 

Commentaries

 

All this can be understood as being purely Heathen. The pagan oaths were done in front of Freyr, Njörðr and “inn almátki áss” (him, all-powerful of the Æsir) and this stanza could speak of his Heathen successor.

The verb ráða gives ræðr in the indicative present, 3rd person.

 

 

66.

Þar kømr inn dimmi

dreki fliúgandi,

naðr fránn, neðan

frá Niðafiöllom;

berr sér í fiöðrom -

flýgr völl yfir -

Niðhöggr, nái.

 

mun hon søcqvaz.

 

Here comes the dim one

dragon flying,

snake glimmering, up from below

from Waning-Moon Cliff (Niðafjöll);

it carries in its wings, -

it flies the meadow above -,

Insult-Stroke (Níðhöggr), corpses.

 

Now must she sink.

 

Commentaries

 

The four first lines are understood as follows: “Comes the flying dragon, the swarthy one, glimmering snake, it rises from Waning-Moon Cliff.”

The last three ones lines are read as follows: “Insult which Massacre flies above the plain. It carries corpses in its wings.”

Note that in stanza 65 the “powerful one, who advises on all” goes down from the sky whereas, in 66, Niðhöggr arrives “from below” i.e. it goes up to the surface of the earth.

This is extremely striking when we remember that the eagle perched at the top of Yggdrasill, Hræsvelgr (Corpse-Swallower), and Níðhöggr hate each other.

Note again that an extremely pagan character, namely Níðhöggr, joins Gimlé.

 

This kind of reconciliation between the celestial forces and the chthonian ones must represent a pagan ideal of which we are hardly any more aware.

 

That the spelling given in the Norse text actually is Niðhöggr (with an ‘i’ not an ‘í’). I prefer to follow here the experts’ use… my translation is already dissenting enough as it is!

 

 

How to understand the composition of these stanzas?

 

The least we can say is that these stanzas appear disjointed, full of exaltation and sometimes hardly comprehensible. How to replace them in a Heathen context that provides some coherence, or at least explains the inconsistencies?

Let us start with inconsistencies relative to the spatial arrangement.

In stanza 60, the Æsir meet on Iðavöllr, i.e. in a valley at the center of the fortifications which enclose Miðgarð. As these stanzas describe a post Ragnarök situation, only the still living Æsir are involved. They remember their past and find back a source of their power, the ancient runes. In stanza 61, they find back their tafl game, which implies a capacity handling a warlike strategy. Stanzas 61 and 62 describe, apparently without change of place, several ‘miraculous’ innovations as Höðr and Baldr return. The second part of stanza 62 even specifies that they will live between walls that have belonged to Óðinn, undoubtedly Valhöll. We thus see in 62 an allusion to the fact that, eventually, everyone gathers in Valhöll, the dead warriors ‘pagan paradise’.

In stanza 63, the divine family (or at least “these of two brothers”) is/are established in the “house of the high wind.” We meet here a celestial allusion, which is obvious since Valhöll is always described as being a celestial residence. The kenning vindheim víðan of course may describe many celestial places but the context rather makes us think of Valhöll [and, as an aside, of Iceland one day of fairly strong wind, which is enough to make of it a genuine ‘kingdom of the winds’]. Not before stanza 64, we learn the name of this place, Gimlé, which thus appears to be a continuation or a new version of Valhöll. The condition to be admitted in Gimlé changed: warriors dead in combat are no longer welcome here and they are replaced by the “faithful people.” Each religion has its faithful ones and, be them Christian or Moslem or other, they will all feel concerned by stanza 65.

Here, the context is the one of Germanic Heathens’ faithful ones and, at this point, I’ll need to argue that such person indeed existed. I will thus provide two examples in the two additions below. The first is relative to facts (no theories) about Verden slaughter and second comes from Kormaks Saga.

I will add a humorous ‘tourist addition’ which illustrates well that the names of the places quoted in Völuspá are still used today in Swedish Scania and Denmark.

 

 

On Verden slaughter (782)

 

The Carolingian Chronicles [ref. 1] begin in 741 and as of 744, state: “Again…Pepin invades Saxony… “, i.e. an almost ceaseless war opposed the Franks and the Saxons as of 741. Let us pass over the many horrors managed by the two parts during this war and come to the Charlemagne enacted laws called Capitulatio of partibus Saxoniae [ ref.. 2]. They have been proclaimed on an unspecified date between 775 and 790. These laws describe a state of religious war between the Franks and the Saxons. For example, refusal to accept baptism or going on with pagan practices are punished by death.

In fact, during the Verden slaughter, Charlemagne does nothing but applying these laws. He applies them to 4500 prisoners of war known as the leaders of the revolt and of the return to paganism, which is spectacular, but perfectly in accordance with the law. These laws have indeed been promulgated by Charlemagne himself. He needed such an official backing to support his laws, in particular the one of the clergy, so that they could be accepted by the other Franks.

The Carolingian Chronicles describe many Saxon revolts that disavow the Christian faith and, at the same time, they declare their political independence and at once start warring against the Frankish domination. The war of religion thus doubles a territorial war, as we could expect. But all that could have remained a ‘simple’ territorial war. That it has been a religion war shows how much 8th century Germans still held to their gods.

 

[ ref. 1] Carolingian Chronicles, translation B W Scholz and B Rogers, Univ. Michigan Press, 1972.

[ ref. 2] Capitulatio of partibus Saxoniae (775-790), ed. Alfred Boretius, MGH Capitularia regum Francorum1 (Hannover 1883), p. 68-69.

 

Gautreks Saga

 

This saga is apparently the only one to describe a place called ‘Ætternisstapi’ = Family High Rock. This is a cliff from the top of which commentators claim that useless mouths, in particular old persons, have been thrown down. Obviously, this legend cannot be corroborated by archaeological discoveries, it is then mistrusted. In fact, Gautreks Saga does not describe what experts claim: it shows several cases where members of a family commit suicide from the top of this family rock.

The story is about a family the head of which is an old stubborn and full of pride character. In this story, people live afar in the middle of a forest, but do not know famine, each one seems to be in good health. Comes a king who lost his way and he frightens everyone by his warrior figure. This king humiliates several times the family head who, the following day when the king is gone away, decides to commit suicide. I suppose that he considered that he could not survive such a dishonor. He announces in this way his decision:

en ek ætla mér ok konu minni ok þræli til Valhallar. ek eigi þrælnum will betra launa sinn trúleika in hann fari með mér.

but I have the intention me and my wife and the þræll (of going) to Valhöll. I cannot better reward the þræll for his fidelity, than to have him traveling with me.

 

The word þræll indicates a ‘slave’ with the Scandinavian way, i.e. very integrated into the family life. To “take him along to Valhöll” it is not an ironic way to speak of a punishment: The head of the family wants to honor the þræll for his fidelity. The father divides his goods between his children and all the family goes to the Ætternisstapi.

óru þau öll upp á Gillingshamar, ok leiddu börnin föður sinn ok móður ofan to fyrir Ætternisstapa, ok fóru þau glöð ok kát til Óðins.

They went all in top to Gillinghammer, and the children led their father and their mother ‘down ahead’ the Family Rock, and they travelled happy and merry towards Óðinn.

 

The verb leiða regularly makes leiðu or leiddu in the preterit and means ‘to lead’ and not ‘to help’: the children lead their parents, they do not ‘help’ them, which could imply ‘to give a hand’ to commit suicide. The expression ofan fyrir expresses an action such as ‘swing over in order to fall’ but does not imply any ‘help’. By forcing the meaning of the words, we could nevertheless understand (just as many did) that the children pushed their parents from top of the rock in order to get rid of them. This contradicts the text stating that they left “happy and merry (glöð ok kát).” It is more reasonable to think than the children accompanied their parents at the place where the latter have ‘rocked over’.

There too, some are able to see a “Christian influence” as the martyrs merrily going ahead of their death. However, even if the author of the saga has been somewhat influenced, he describes a supremely un-Christian behavior: a suicide caused by an exacerbated pride.

Here thus is a very clear example of a passionate faith in Óðinn.

 

The touristic addition

 

We can find charts on the internet, which indicate in an extremely vague way the existence in Sweden of cities named Gimle, Valhall etc. But they are not precise enough to find our way to go there. Thus let us trust our modern Google-map and here is a route you can check without problem.

Departure from Gimle (Denmark - 40km West of Copenhagen) and join Valhall (Sweden), close to Angelholm by E20.

You will pass near Malmö on arriving in Sweden, and you will be able to take a right turn to Vanstad (City of Vanir, 65 km East of Malmö). It will be necessary for you to come back to Malmö, and take again E20 and to go to Valhall.

From there, take the 506 to join Gimlevägen (Gimle Road), 16km North of Valhall.

If you are really courageous, you can then continue towards North and join Vanhäll, far to the North-West of Stockholm.

More seriously from the tourist point of view, Vanstad is to 30 km west of Kivik, one of the most famous Neolithic sites of Sweden. A bit more to the south, find the site of Simris, rich in petroglyphs.

 

A trip to Æsir and Vanir, starting from Gimle (Denmark)

 

Conclusion

 

Now you have read the literal translation and you can know how much the translators interpreted in the sense of a Christian comprehension. I hope that you will agree with me that, obviously, a Christian influence is possible. I would even say that various influences, including the Christian one, but also continental Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Latin are very probable: the skalds were knowledgeable people, certainly those who knew the most the cultural currents of their time, in Scandinavia. But Völuspá's Heathen grounds are what stand out of the poem the most, including in the eight last stanzas.

In particular, in a little unexpected way, the literal translation underlines two significant facts of Scandinavian Heathen spirituality. One is the need (we would qualify it nowadays as “nearly morbid”) to ensure the clan cohesion, by regarding fratricide an ultimate offence to the divinities and not as a ‘simple’ crime. The other is the need, less often underlined, to reconcile the celestial and chthonian forces.