Hávamál 90-95


“Initiation to love”


***Hávamál 90***


A translation as literal as possible


Who obtains love and peace of the women,

whose thought is crafty,

(is) just like one who rides a steed without ice-spikes,

on the slipping ice,

very merry, two winters old,

and badly tamed,

or (he is like who steers) in a furious wind

a rudderless ship,

or (he is like) a cripple who must catch

a reindeer in the mountain when the snow melts.


Prose explanation


The achievement of who obtains peace and love with women, so crafty is their thought, can be compared to three acrobatic behaviors:

- the one of riding a steed without ice-spikes on slipping ice, and this steed is merry and full of life, two years old and badly tamed,

- or the one of sailing without a rudder in a furious wind,

- or the one of a cripple trying to catch a reindeer in the mountain at thawing-time.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Svá er friðr kvenna,           So who love (or peace) of women,

þeira er flátt hyggja,          of them is craftily mind,

sem aki jó óbryddum         same as he drives a stallion non-pinned

á ísi hálum,                        on gliding ice,            

teitum, tvévetrum               cheerful, two winters (old),

ok sé tamr illa,                   and be tame badly,

eða í byr óðum                  or in wind frantic

beiti stjórnlausu,                 a ship rudderless,

eða skyli haltr henda         or should the lame catch

hrein í þáfjalli.                   the reindeer in the thaw-mountain.




90. The love of women | fickle of will

Is like starting o’er ice | with a steed unshod,

A two-year-old restive | and little tamed,

Or steering a rudderless | ship in a storm,

Or, lame, hunting reindeer | on slippery rocks.


Commentary on the vocabulary


friðr means, in general, ‘peace(as in the well-known phrase “till árs ok friðar” meaning “to prosperity and peace”). I partly follow Evans who sees here the meaning oflovethat fits better the context. . The Indo-European origins of friðr and its etymological connections with ‘love’ are explained in http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/OnTheContracts.htm . The meaningpeaceshould not, however, be rejected. The comparison with a “young untamed horse” calls to mind the fact that there is a long story of keeping peace with women by oppressing them. In this state, they never behave as a “young merry horse.” It is compulsory to choose between oppression and love.


flátt (neuter of flár) = crafty, astute, perfidious. Cleasby-Vigfusson, for once, proposes a fanciful etymology to this word. We actually ignore its exact etymology and we thus cannot do better than compare it with the equivalent words in other Germanic languages. Old English gives us flāh:misleading, enemy’ ; Old High German, flēhan:to beg, flatter’ ; Gothic, ga-þlaihan-þlaihan:to comfort’. You see that the general meaning of the proto-Germanic word (i.e. the unknown word which gave rise to all these words) has to turn around the idea to obtain something by appealing to feelings. In Old Norse, the meaning ofastute with a bit of perfidythus appears quite probable, and this is the meaning suggested by the dictionaries. This amounts to stating that women are shrewd and dangerous to handle. This is far from the translatorsinsults such as Bellows: “fickle of will,” Dronke: “those who think in lies,” Orchard: "(women) whose heart is false,” Boyer: “(woman) whose heart is haunted by falseness.” The examples which follow, and which compare the woman with a young merry horse, a ship and a reindeer, illustrate the difficulty of having them love you peacefully. They do not describe any “inconstancy,” or “falseness of heart” or “lies.”


hyggja (noun fem.) = thought, spirit, opinion. hyggja (verb) = to think, mean, believe.


óbryddum = ó-bryddum = (to be) without- crampoons. Lex. Poet. defines the adjective bryddr by what qualifies a stimulus minutus (a small spike). Evans says that archaeology attests the existence of ice-spikes to shoe the horses having to move on ice.


The meaning given to teitr by the dictionaries is that ofglad, cheerful’. When this adjective is applied to a horse, C-V translates it bywildand Lex Poet. gives (teitr for a horse): lasciviens (burning). Bellows translates it byrestive’, Dronke bylively’, Orchard byfrolicsomeand Boyer bywild’. I prefer to keepmerry, cheerfulsince a merry person always tends to be a little agitated.


beiti = pasture = ship in poetry. Arudderless pasturewould be hard to imagine.


Comment on the meaning


This stanza assesses woman in a way far from being as pejorative as everyone seem to agree. The word flár is indeed often pejorative, but Ódhinn provides three examples that do not project at all a pejorative image. Neither the young merry horse, neither the insane ship, nor the fleeing reindeer are particularly perfidious, though they are difficult to control. My understanding of Ódhinn’s message is that women are out of control, and that can be understood in two ways. The negative way is to conclude that they are unstable and shifty, the positive way is to deduce that none should try to control them. This last understanding constitutes indeed the first love lesson that each man should receive.

The image of the young horse full with life, lasciviens (burning) as translated by Lex. Poet., entails an obvious connotation oflasciviousness’. Ódhinn’s description expresses his appreciation but it also says that this young horse is badly equipped (it has no ice-spikes). The image of the ship lost in a storm reinforces the feeling that a woman is badly equipped and explains why she is out of control. Conversely, the image of a reindeer describes a reindeer (i.e., the woman) well equipped to run in melting snow and a wobbly man, i.e. a handicapped person. This last image prevents us to think that woman is alwayslacking’. This stanza finally underlines that, in a couple, peace and love are extremely difficult to reach. A man will seek controlling a woman and she spends her time fleeing this control. All this is not very optimistic, but it is not either specially misogynist.

Remember that already in stanza 74, commenting on hverf applied to Fall, we underlined how much our knowledge of Fall would influence our understanding of hverf. Here again, the same tendency shows up. The translators translated flár in accordance with  their personal opinions on women, forgetting that s. 90 context is not at all derogatory. To be completely honest, I simply have just shown you that my personal opinion (that is: a woman isgenerallyintelligent and hard to handle) is not incompatible with Ódhinn’s words in this stanza. Anyhow, a honest misogynist cannot go beyond the most pejorative meaning of the word flár the one of “astutely perfidious” which, at least, is not the crude insult that that has been so often put in Ódhinn’s mouth.





1 friðr clearly means ‘lovehere, as also probably in Skírnismál 19 and possibly in 51 above. This is the original sense of the word, cp. frjá ‘to woo’, friðill ‘wooerand friðla (> frilla) ‘mistress ‘. [Recall: see http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/OnTheContracts.htm.]

3 óbryddum - ice-spikes for horses are mentioned only here, but are evidenced from archaeology (e.g. in the Gokstað ship burial from the late ninth century) …

9-10 The scene is plainly Norwegian, not Icelandic. þáfjall only here, but well known as tå(e)fjell in modern Norwegian dialect. The point of the lines is that reindeer can be caught only on skis, which cannot be used in a thaw. [Some of you may have never tasted what is cross-country skiing in such a snow.springsnows sticks to the skis in such an amount that moving becomes exhausting even for a perfectly fit person.]



***Hávamál 91***


Here is at last the stanza in which Ódhinn restores balance betweenfemale bad faith’ and male inconstancy. You will note two things. Firstly, he uses the exact same words in both cases, but they are two grammatical different forms of this same word, which do not bear the same meaning. Secondly, translators seem reluctant to speak aboutwise women’ : they speak of “the wise ones” as if the context did not point at women being wise. Here again, do not confuse the translators’ misogyny with the one they drive you to see in Ódhinn!


A translation as literal as possible


My naked thought, I speak now

because I know both,

the heart of the man is unfaithful to women;

when we utter our finest words,

our thinking is the craftiest:

thus you seduce the wise (women)’ s heart.


Prose explanation


Now, I give you my naked thought because I know them both, men and women, and the male heart is quite as inconstant towards the women that that of the women is sharp with respect to the men. It is when we (men) pronounce our finest words than our thought the craftiest: you (my male brother) allure the heart of women of wisdom in this way.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Bert ek nú mæli,                            Naked I now speak,

því at ek bæði veit,                         because I both know,

brigðr er karla hugr konum;         unfaithful is male’s soul towards women;

þá vér fegrst mælum,                     when we the fairest speak

er vér flást hyggjum:                     is that we the most craftily think:

þat tælir horska hugi.                    that you entice of the wise (women) the soul.




91. Clear now will I speak, | for I know them both,

Men false to women are found;

When fairest we speak, | then falsest we think,

Against wisdom we work with deceit.


Commentary on the vocabulary


Remember 84 last line:

brigð í brjóst of lagið.   The rupture [or the protest] in [their] the chest is lying.

And the second line of 90.

þeira er flátt hyggja,     theirs is astutely thinking,

I boldfaced the two words used to describe the sharpness and cunning of women’s hearts. They now will be almost identically used to describe men’s behavior.


On karl (and maðr): karla-maðr = male-human, kvenna-maðr = female-human. When both at the same time are spoken of, maðr is not repeated: to speak of men and women, one says karlmaðr eða konna.


horska is the genitive of horskr which is the same for the three genders. It is an adjective qualifyinga wise person’, which we in general calla wise one’. Even though Bellows’ and Boyer’s translations completely dissociate the last and the first lines, they thus cannot be calledmistaken’ from a strict grammatical point of view. Bellows speaks of wisdom in general, and Boyer ofthe wise ones’ (“les sages”) as if this line applied to both genders. Dronke speaks of a “delicate mind” and Orchard of a “sensible soul,” which, either, does not clearly designate a woman. I do not see in what way (apart from avoiding alluding to the medical wise women), qualifying a woman as being wise looks so awkward. Moreover, in stanza 161 Ódhinn himself describes Billings mær as being horskr (wise) and in s. 161 he speaks of obtaining pleasure ins svinna mans (“from the ‘svinnr’ young woman,” where svinnr means alsowise’ ). This is translated as “a girl of good sense” by Dronke and as “a wise girl” by Orchard.

At any rate, this last line is clearly a conclusion of the lines before and these lines clearly speak of how men mislead women, not how they misleadwise ones’.

It is also significant that Ódhinn would speak aboutwomen who are wise’, that is, who hold knowledge and wisdom. They should better resist seduction, while, on the contrary, they are the most sensitive “to very fine words.” Nevertheless, Ódhinn claims again male/female symmetry in respect to this weakness since stanza 93 opposes a horskan (a wise one – then a clear masculine accusative), who is able to appreciate a woman’s beauty to the point to lose his wits, and a heimskan (heavy minded male) who is unable of it.


Comment on the meaning


We already saw in 84 that it was not necessary to insist too much on the exact meaning of the words brigð and flár, as long as 91 restores the balance between women and men. In 84, we also saw that the real question hidden behind this problem is the one of Hávamál’s global coherence. Here as well, the problem of equality between men and women hides another significant question, the one of knowing if Ódhinn really states that all human ones are always inconstant and misleading. We can easily see that using the words “inconstant and misleading” is an attempt at describing humankind as guilty of some unsaid mistake. We are still submitted to multiple attempts at making us feel guilty. For instance, you are guilty if you do not give money for the healthcare of handicapped children, a smoker is guilty of endangering the health of other people etc. This is how the proper words for ‘sharp’ andastute’ may become something meaningunfaithful’ andfickle of will’. Within a society pushing us into guilt, these translations are indeed the good ones! On the contrary, a Heathen Ódhinn does not try to make us feel guilty but he tries to honestly describe us, men or women, with our pluses and minuses.

As side remark, let me add that, now that balance between the sexes is restored, men will perhaps better understand why women are so much annoyed by these pejorative ways of describing them.



***Hávamál 92***


A translation as literal as possible


It must speak gracefully

and offer richness (or the rune )

if he wants to seize a girl’ s love,

to allow (her) to (her) body,

the one of the shiny desired girl:

thus obtains who loves.


Prose explanation


Who wants to grasp the love of a woman must tell her fine words and be generous of his goods [or: to offer her a carved rune ], he must also authorize his brilliant mistress to her (to have a) body (to allow her to enjoy her body) [or: he must praise the body of the shiny mistress]: thus who loves will obtain (the woman that he wishes).


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Fagurt skal mæla              Beautifully shall (he) speak

ok fé bjóða                                     and wealth offer (or rune fé to proclaim)

er vill fljóðs ást fá,         if he will the woman’s love fetch

líki leyfa                             to the body allow (or praise)

ins ljósa mans:                   she of the lights desired-maid:

Sá fær er fríar.                   thus fetches who woos (or loves)




92. Soft words shall he speak | and wealth shall he offer

Who longs for a maiden’s love,

And the beauty praise | of the maiden bright;

He wins whose wooing is best.


Commentary on the vocabulary


- líki leyfa: líki is the singular dative of lík, the body. All translators translate leyfa by praising although this meaning of leyfa is normally followed by an accusative. Considering the context, one is led to translate by praising, but the dative must make us think of another meaning. It is necessary “to allow to the (her) body,” i.e. ‘to authorize the body’ of the courted woman.

- mans: genitive of man (a neuter word). I already explained in stanza 82 that man is woman-liege, a kind of slave. The word took the meaning of ‘sexually loved woman’ and sexual love. The manrunar are always called “runes of love” where the sexual component oflove’ is quite heavy.

- bjóða meansto offer’. To offer a rune , means to engrave it and symbolically offer it to beloved one, as a token a sensual wealth more than one of material richness. To offer material wealth does not only mean to offer money, which suggests prostitution rather than love.

- fé: initially meanscattle’ and thenwealth’. As expected, all the translators understand it as being relative to material wealth. The rune (fehu into Old Germanic) is also the rune of the wealth. The second line of the Icelandic rune poem calls it “fire of the sea” to refer to gold, and also in some versions, fyrða gaman, that iswarriorsdelight,” which can be another reference to gold. Its third line calls it grafseiðs gata, usually translated either by “fish-box” or “path of the serpent.” In a Latin comment found in Þrideilur Rúna, this line is commentated as “the way of the delicious viper” (deliciæ viperæ via). Put together, all these various comments clearly point towards a richness associated to the sex of women.


Comment on the meaning


It often happens that the skalds who wrote the Edda poems, or the scribes who copied them, did not follow the same exact grammar as most other writers. Thus, giving precedence to the context to grammar and translating leyfa byto praise’, cannot be called an error. The strict application of grammar, however, does not lead to such nonsense that we feel necessary to push it aside. The translators’ prudishness obviously prevents them from seeing in the expressionallowing the body’ the meaning of “your mistress should be allowed to take her own sexual pleasure.” In any case, ‘to praise the body’ andto give pleasure to the body’ seem to me obviously complementary. This belongs as well to the corpus that constitutes the primary love lessons that each man should receive.

I prefer the interpretation of byrune ’, though some will call it fanciful, rather than bywealth’. The meaningwealth’ implies a kind of stinginess on behalf of the desired woman while the meaningrune ’ stresses another kind of greed. Here again, the one does not prevent the other … and this depends on each person’s peculiarities. Still, I easier imagine Ódhinn providing wise advice for properly behaving with horny females than with rapacious ones.





6 The verb fría [to love] or frjá [to pet] (= Gothic frijōn rendering άγαπάν [= love] and φιλειν [= frienship]) is obsolescent in ON [these verbs are defective. We have here an example of a normal use of them]; it is found, apart from the present passage, twice in the Edda (Sigsk. 8 and Lokasenna 19, both somewhat obscure) and once in málsháttakvæði 5 …); it does not occur in prose. Sturtevant 4 argues that in Norse its sense appears to have developed from ‘loveto ‘woo, caress, fondle’.



***Hávamál 93***


A translation as literal as possible


Blaming for love,

no human should

ever someone else;

often, they do catch the wise one,

and do not the heavy-minded one,

these whose beauty strikes like the colors of dawn.


Prose explanation


No human should never blame another for the love he shows for someone.

Often, strikingly beautiful women who look like the colors of dawn are able to catch a wise one’s feelings whereas they do not arouse the heavy-minded one.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Ástar firna                          For love, to blame

skyli engi maðr                  should no human person

annan aldregi;                   another one never;

oft fá á horskan,                 often they catch a sage one,

er á heimskan né fá,          (these women) who a heavy-minded one do not catch,

lostfagrir litir.                     strike(ingly)-beautiful complexions (or colors of the day-break).




93. Fault for loving | let no man find

Ever with any other;

Oft the wise are fettered, | where fools go free,

By beauty that breeds desire.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The last line is difficult to translate because it uses few words to render the poetry of a complex idea, which we express by’ stunningly beautiful’, to describe a shapely person. Lostfagrir and litir are two words in the nominative plural that describe these who are able “to catch a wise one and to leave indifferent a heavy-minded one.”

- lostfagrir is made of lostr (a blow - as the one stricken by a fist blow) and fargr (beautiful). This word thus expresses what English would call “stunningly beautiful” or “a striking beauty.”

- litr has several meanings; on the one hand, those of color, face, aspect and, on the other hand, the one oflight of the dawn’.

Grammar does not tell us if such a beautiful person is male or female, but the context strongly hints at female beauty.


Comment on the meaning


I cannot prevent being a bit amused to see Ódhinn so well ‘setting up the field’ for the confession done in stanza 96. He fell insanely in love for a desirable woman who ridiculed him, and he presently says to us that nobody should blame him for it.

In a deeper way, is it reallywise’ to remain insensitive when love calls us? Are not the happiest moments of our life, these mad moments when love dazzles us and reveals to us (or makes us believe into) the incredible beauty of the loved one? Who never knew that feeling can cast the first stone but, sincerely, I feel sorrier for the stone thrower than I do for Ódhinn!



***Hávamál 94***


A translation as literal as possible



Blame for nothing

another, the human should (‘not’),

from what goes among many men;

the wise ones as oafs

it transforms sons of man,

it, the powerful need (to like).


Prose explanation


A human one should blame in nothing (should not blame) another person for a very common behavior among the men, the powerful need to like, acts on sons of man to transform the wise ones into morons.


Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Eyvitar firna                                              In nothing blame

er maðr annan skal,                                  he, a human one, another-one should,

þess er um margan gengr guma;              of it is among it goes many men

heimska ór horskum                                  oafs out of wise ones

gerir hölða sonu                                        it builds from men’s sons

inn máttki munr.                                    that powerful need (or love).




94. Fault with another | let no man find

For what touches many a man;

Wise men oft | into witless fools

Are made by mighty love.


Commentary on the vocabulary


- gerir heimska ór horskum exactly means:it builds morons out of wise ones’.

- munr is a word which has many meanings. In this stanza, it is connected to the Middle Ages German minne (love), as in the Minnesang of this time. But it means alsowill, need, desire, delight’.

- heimskr meanswho remains at home’, which takes the meaning of an oaf, a moron. As in s. 93, I prefer a more precise translation:heavy-minded one’.


Comment on the meaning


We could have believed, according to 93, that the wise one is able to remain wise even when he under the spell of irrepressible love. No, he unfortunately becomes a moron from it. In fact, I’d speak of myself in exactly the same words (“what a fool have I been!”). Yet, I do not begrudge one minute of the time I spent in this state of relative blindness. Might it then be that Ódhinn does not regret it?





1 Eyvitar is gen. sg. of the same word as appears in the dative in 28.. [this dative case is eyvitu. In this stanza, it is in the genitive case since Old Norse says, firna (to blame) someone (accusative) of something (genitive in place theexpecteddative) ]

2 er appears superfluous; similar examples (all at the opening of the second half of a ljóðáttr ‘long line’ ) are in Alvíssmál 7: sáttir þínar er ek vill snemma hafa, and in Grímnismál 50, Hárb. 25, Helg. Hj. 16 and 22, and Fjölsvinnsmál 50. No very satisfactory explanation has been adduced; ….



***Hávamál 95***


A translation as literal as possible


The thought alone knows what

is close to the village of the heart,

it is alone to itself in (the calms of?) its soul;

nothing (so much like) a disease

for each wise one

as being in self-agreement about nothing.


Prose explanation


Human thought only can know what dwells close to its heart; thought only can know the state of calm (or of disorder!) lying in its heart;

To be in agreement with nothing in oneself is what looks like the best as a disease, for the wise one.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Hugr einn þat veit              Mind (intelligence) one (alone) what knows [knows what]

er býr hjarta nær,              is the village of the heart near,

einn er hann sér um sefa;  one-alone is it (or he) to it/him-self among the ‘quietness-of                                           its/his-mind’ ;

öng er sótt verri                  nothing that sickness might-be

hveim snotrum manni        for-all sage human-ones

en sér engu að una.           but in one-self with-nothing at feeling-good.




95. The head alone knows | what dwells near the heart,

A man knows his mind alone;

No sickness is worse | to one who is wise

Than to lack the longed-for joy.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The pronoun hann meansheorhimin the masculine nominative and accusative. Evans supposes that it is impossible that thishe(in bold letters in the word for word translation) refers to hugr which is however a masculine. He concludes from it that the wise one (male) is alone in his heart. Most translators think as Evans does, except Orchard who translates line 3 by “alone it (mind) sees into the soul.” I prefer this choice that preserves the ambiguity relating to the gender of the wise one because it does not appear at all impossible to me that the thought, the intelligence (hugr) can analyze the state of mind, the heart of the wise one. This behavior is not impossible and is nothing but introspection. Following this understanding the third line is rendered by “it is alone to itself in (the calms of?) its soul.”

The verb sefa meansto calm down’. The noun sefi (here in the dative case, sefa) is translated by ‘spirit, soulin the dictionaries. In this case, the context suggests a meditating attitude. This is why I think it appears judicious to avoid forgetting what the verb sefa means and understand a second meaning of um sefa asin his/its heart quietness’. Boyer is the only one to render sefi bylove’, which Evans describes as “non-founded.” Bellows gives mind’ ; Dronke, ‘feeling’; Orchard, ‘soul’.

- una = to dwell, to feel good in (una lífi = to be well in life = to be pleased with one’s life).

- verri = 3rd person of past subjunctive tense of verb being.

- öngr (line 4) = engi (line 6) = ‘nothing’. It does engu in the dative.


Comment on the meaning


From a translation point of view, the last line is a problem. Does it speak of “the longed-for joy” (Bellows), “happiness for himself” (Dronke), of something that makes one content” (Orchard) or of “self-fulfillment” (Boyer)?

Boyer’ s curtly egocentric translation is completely out of the love context of the stanzas before 95. English translators do refer as well to some kind of pleasure but they are moving away from the literal meaning. All these translations suggest that this stanza does not deal with love for another person.

The literal meaning: “to have no happiness for one self in anything,” that is: “to feel in complete disagreement with oneself,” can be interpreted curtly as Boyer does it, but it can be also interpreted as a description of the ‘love disordersdescribed in the preceding stanzas. Stanzas 90-92 show how much stability in love is difficult to reach. Stanza 93 shows that a wise one is particularly predisposed to fall into the traps of passionate love. Stanza 94 explicitly states that love passion turns the wisest into idiots. Thus, 95 is the logical conclusion of stanzas 90-94, it says: “A wise one is able to analyze his feelings, he is conscious of the contradictions imposed on him by the passion of love, which it is a kind of spiritual disease for him.”

In this last love lesson, Ódhinn explains why love is the most delicious and the most painful/dangerous feeling that a wise person might undergo.





3 hann [thishehas been put in bold in the pseudo-translation] must refer to the man who owns the hugr; it cannot be the hugr itself, for then it is impossible to give sense to sefa. Suggestions that sefi could mean either ‘beloved person…or ‘breast… lack any foundation. So render ‘He is alone with his thoughts ‘; sér is dative of the reflexive pronoun (not a verb …).

6 una sér is normally used absolutely ‘to be content’; its combination with a dative object is however also found [twice in the sagas]...