At the beginning of the collection in the Codex Regius stands
the Voluspo, the most famous and important, as it is likewise
the most debated, of all the Eddie poems. Another version of it
is found in a huge miscellaneous compilation of about the year
1300, the Hauksbok, and many stanzas are included in the Prose
Edda of Snorri Sturluson. The order of the stanzas in the
Hauksbok version differs materially from that in the Codex
Regius, and in the published editions many experiments have
been attempted in further rearrangements. On the whole, how-
ever, and allowing for certain interpolations, the order of the
stanzas in the Codex Regius seems more logical than any of
the wholesale "improvements" which have been undertaken.
The general plan of the Voluspo is fairly clear. Othin, chief
of the gods, always conscious of impending disaster and eager
for knowledge, calls on a certain "Volva," or wise-woman, pre-
sumably bidding her rise from the grave. She first tells him of
the past, of the creation of the world, the beginning of years,
the origin of the dwarfs (at this point there is a clearly inter-
polated catalogue of dwarfs* names, stanzas io-i6), of the first
man and woman, of the world-ash Yggdrasil, and of the first
war, between the gods and the Vanir, or, in Anglicized form, the
Wanes. Then, in stanzas 27-29, as a further proof of her
wisdom, she discloses some of ODin's own secrets and the de-
tails of his search for knowledge. Rewarded by Othin for what
she has thus far told (stanza 30), she then turns to the real
prophesy, the disclosure of the final destruction of the gods.
This final battle, in which fire and flood overwhelm heaven and
earth as the gods fight with their enemies, is the great fact in Norse
mythology; the phrase describing it, ragna rok, "the fate of the
gods," has become familiar, by confusion with the word rbkkr,
"twilight," in the German Goiter ddmmerung. The wise-woman
tells of the Valkyries who bring the slain warriors to support
Othin and the other gods in the battle, of the slaying of Baldr,
best and fairest of the gods, through the wiles of Loki, of the
enemies of the gods, of the summons to battle on both sides, and
of the mighty struggle, till ODin is slain, and "fire leaps high
about heaven itself" (stanzas 31-58). But this is not all. A
new and beautiful world is to rise on the ruins of the old;
Baldr comes back, and "fields unsowed bear ripened fruit"
This final passage, in particular, has caused wide differences
of opinion as to the date and character of the poem. That the
poet was heathen and not Christian seems almost beyond dis-
pute; there is an intensity and vividness in almost every stanza
which no archaizing Christian could possibly have achieved.
On the other hand, the evidences of Christian influence are
sufficiently striking to outweigh the arguments of Finnur Jonsson,
Mullenhoff and others who maintain that the Voluspo is purely
a product of heathendom. The roving Norsemen of the tenth
century, very few of whom had as yet accepted Christianity,
were nevertheless in close contact with Celtic races which had
already been converted, and in many ways the Celtic influence
was strongly felt. It seems likely, then, that the Voluspo was the
work of a poet living chiefly in Iceland, though possibly in the
"Western Isles," in the middle of the tenth century, a vigorous
believer in the old gods, and yet with an imagination active
enough to be touched by the vague tales of a different religion
emanating from his neighbor Celts.
How much the poem was altered during the two hundred
years between its composition and its first being committed to
writing is largely a matter of guesswork, but, allowing for such
an obvious interpolation as the catalogue of dwarfs, and for
occasional lesser errors, it seems quite needless to assume such
great changes as many editors do. The poem was certainly not
composed to tell a story with which its early hearers were quite
familiar; the lack of continuity which baffles modern readers
presumably did not trouble them in the least. It is, in effect, a
series of gigantic pictures, put into words with a directness and
sureness which bespeak the poet of genius. It is only after the
reader, with the help of the many notes, has familiarized him-
self with the names and incidents involved that he can begin to
understand the effect which this magnificent poem must have
produced on those who not only understood but believed it
1. Hearing I ask from the holy races,
From Heimdall's sons, both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather, that well I relate
Old tales I remember of men long ago.
2. I remember yet the giants of yore,
Who gave me bread in the days gone by ;
Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the tree
With mighty roots beneath the mold.
1. A few editors, following Bugge, in an effort to clarify
the poem, place stanzas 22, 28 and 30 before stanzas 1-20, but
the arrangement in both manuscripts, followed here, seems
logical. In stanza i the Volva, or wise-woman, called upon by
Othin, answers him and demands a hearing. Evidently she be-
longs to the race of the giants (cf. stanza 2), and thus speaks to
Othin unwillingly, being compelled to do so by his magic power.
Holy: omitted in Regius; the phrase "holy races" probably means
little more than mankind in general. Heimdall: the watchman
of the gods; cf. stanza 46 and note. Why mankind should be
referred to as Heimdall's sons is uncertain, and the phrase has
caused much perplexity. Heimdall seems to have had various at-
tributes, and in the Rtgsthula, wherein a certain Rig appears
as the ancestor of the three great classes of men, a fourteenth
century annotator identifies Rig with Heimdall, on what au-
thority we do not know, for the Rig of the poem seems much
more like Othin (cf. Rtgsthula, introductory prose and note).
Valfather ("Father of the Slain") : Othin, chief of the gods, so
called because the slain warriors were brought to him at Val-
hall ("Hall of the Slain") by the Valkyries ("Choosers of the
2. Nine worlds: the worlds of the gods (Asgarth), of the
Wanes (Vanaheim, cf. stanza 21 and note), of the elves (Alf-
heim), of men (Mithgarth), of the giants (Jotunheim), of fire
(Muspellsheim, cf. stanza 47 and note), of the dark elves
(Svartalfaheim), of the dead (Niflheim), and presumably of
the dwarfs (perhaps Nithavellir, cf. stanza 37 and note, but
the ninth world is uncertain). The tree: the world-ash Yggdrasil,
3. Of old was the age when Ymir lived;
Sea nor cool waves nor sand there were ;
Earth had not been, nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.
4. Then Bur's sons lifted the level land,
Mithgarth the mighty there they made;
The sun from the south warmed the stones of
And green was the ground with growing leeks.
5. The sun, the sister of the moon, from the south
Her right hand cast over heaven's rim;
No knowledge she had where her home should be,
The moon knew not what might was his.
The stars knew not where their stations were.
symbolizing the universe; cf. Grimnismol, 29-35 ^"d notes,
wherein Yggdrasil is described at length.
3. Ymir: the giant out of whose body the gods made the
•world; cf. Vafthruthnismol, 21. In this stanza as quoted in
Snorri's Edda the first line runs: "Of old was the age ere
aught there was." Yaivning gap: this phrase, "Ginnunga-gap,"
is sometimes used as a proper name.
4. Bur's sons: Othin, Vili, and Ve. Of Bur we know only that
his wife was Bestla, daughter of Bolthorn; cf. Hovamol, 141.
Vili and Ve are mentioned by name in the Eddie poems only in
Lokasenna, 26. Mithgarth ("Middle Dwelling") ; the world of
men. Leeks: the leek was often used as the symbol of fine
growth (cf. Guthrunarkvitha I, 17), and it was also supposed to
have magic power (cf. Sigrdriftimol, 7).
5. Various editors have regarded this stanza as interpolated;
HoflFory thinks it describes the northern summer night in which
the sun does not set. Lines 3-5 are quoted by Snorri. In the
manuscripts line 4 follows line 5. Regarding the sun and moon
6. Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, and council held;
Names then gave they to noon and twilight,
Morning they named, and the waning moon.
Night and evening, the years to number.
7. At Ithavoll met the mighty gods,
Shrines and temples they timbered high;
Forges they set, and they smithied ore,
Tongs they wrought, and tools they fashioned.
8. In their dwellings at peace they played at tables.
Of gold no lack did the gods then know, —
Till thither came up giant-maids three.
Huge of might, out of Jotunheim.
as daughter and son of Mundilferi, cf. Vafthruthnismol, 23 and
note, and Grimnismol, 37 and note.
6. Possibly an interpolation, but there seems no strong reason
for assuming this. Lines 1-2 are identical with lines 1-2 of
stanza 9, and line 2 may have been inserted here from that later
7. Ithavoll ("Field of Deeds"?): mentioned only here and
in stanza 60 as the meeting-place of the gods; it appears in no
8. Tables: the exact nature of this game, and whether it
more closely resembled chess or checkers, has been made the
subject of a 400-page treatise, Willard Fiske's "Chess in Ice-
land." Giant-maids: perhaps the three great Norns, correspond-
ing to the three fates ; cf . stanza 20 and note. Possibly, however,
something has been lost after this stanza, and the missing
passage, replaced by the catalogue of the dwarfs (stanzas 9-16),
may have explained the "giant-maids" otherwise than as Norns.
In Vafthruthnismol, 49, the Norns (this time "three throngs" in-
stead of simply "three") are spoken of as giant-maidens;
9. Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, and council held.
To find who should raise the race of dwarfs
Out of Brimir's blood and the legs of Blain.
fo. There was Motsognir the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs,. ^ and Durin next ;
Many a likeness of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, as Durin said.
II. Nyi and Nithi, Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, Ai, Mjothvitnir.
Fafnismol, 13, indicates the existence of many lesser Norns, be-
longing to various races. Jotunheim : the world of the giants.
9. Here apparently begins the interpolated catalogue of the
dwarfs, running through stanza 16; possibly, however, the in-
terpolated section does not begin before stanza u. Snorri quotes
practically the entire section, the names appearing in a some-
what changed order. Brimir and Blain: nothing is known of
these two giants, and it has been suggested that both are names
for Ymir (cf. stanza 3). Brimir, however, appears in stanza 37
in connection with the home of the dwarfs. Some editors treat
the words as common rather than proper nouns, Brimir meaning
'the bloody moisture" and Blain being of uncertain significance.
10. Very few of the dwarfs named in this and the following
stanzas are mentioned elsewhere. It is not clear why Durin
should have been singled out as authority for the list. The oc-
casional repetitions suggest that not all the stanzas of the cata-
logue came from the same source. Most of the names presumably
had some definite significance, as Northri, Suthri, Austri, and
Vestri ("North," "South," "East," and "West"), Althjof
12. Vigg and Gandalf, Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath, — now have I told —
Regin and Rathsvith — the list aright.
Frar, Hombori, Fraeg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, Eikinskjaldi.
14. The race of the dwarfs in Dvalin's throng
Down to Lof ar the list must I tell ;
The rocks they left, and through wet lands
They sought a home in the fields of sand.
15. There were Draupnir and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, Hlevang, Gloin,
("Mighty Thief"), Mjothvitnir ("Mead- Wolf"), Gandalf
("Magic Elf"), Vindalf ("Wind Elf"), Rathsvith ("Swift in
Counsel"), Eikinskjaldi ("Oak Shield"), etc., but in many cases
the interpretations are sheer guesswork.
12. The order of the lines in this and the succeeding four
stanzas varies greatly in the manuscripts and editions, and the
names likewise appear in many forms. Regin: probably not
identical with Regin the son of Hreithmar, who plays an im-
portant part in the Reginsmol and Fafnismol, but cf. note on
Reginsmol, introductory prose.
14. Dvalin'. in Hovamol, 144, Dvalin seems to have given
magic runes to the dwarfs, probably accounting for their skill
in craftsmanship, while in Fafnismol, 13, he is mentioned as
the father of some of the lesser Norns. The story that some of
the dwarfs left the rocks and mountains to find a new home on
the sands is mentioned, but unexplained, in Snorri's Edda; of
Lofar we know only that he was descended from these wanderers.
Fjalar and Frosti, Fith and Ginnar;
So for all time shall the tale be known,
The list of all the forbears of Lofar.
17. Then from the throng did three come forth,
From the home of the gods, the mighty and
Two without fate on the land they found,
Ask and Embla, empty of might.
18. Soul they had not, sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, nor goodly hue ;
Soul gave Othin, sense gave Honir,
Heat gave Lothur and goodly hue.
15. Andvari: this dwarf appears prominently in the Regins-
mol, which tells how the god Loki treacherously robbed him of
his wealth ; the curse which he laid on his treasure brought about
the deaths of Sigurth, Gunnar, Atli, and many others.
17. Here the poem resumes its course after the interpolated
section. Probably, however, something has been lost, for there is
no apparent connection between the three giant-maids of stanza
8 and the three gods, Othin, Honir and Lothur, who in stanza 17
go forth to create man and woman. The word "three" in stanzas
8 and 17 very likely confused some early reciter, or perhaps the
compiler himself. Ask and Embla: ash and elm; Snorri gives
them simply as the names of the first man and woman, but says
that the gods made this pair out of trees.
18. Honir: little is known of this god, save that he occasion-
ally appears in the poems in company with Othin and Loki, and
19. An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name,
With water white is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth's well does it ever grow.
20. Thence come the maidens mighty in wisdom,
Three from the dwelling down 'neath the tree;
Urth is one named, Verthandi the next, —
On the wood they scored, — and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there, and life allotted
To the sons of men, and set their fates.
that he survives the destruction, assuming in the new age the
gift of prophesy (cf. stanza 63). He was given by the gods as a
hostage to the Wanes after their war, in exchange for Njorth
(cf. stanza 21 and note). Lothur: apparently an older name
for Loki, the treacherous but ingenious son of Laufey, whose
divinity Snorri regards as somewhat doubtful. He was adopted
by Othin, who subsequently had good reason to regret it. Loki
probably represents the blending of two originally distinct
figures, one of them an old fire-god, hence his gift of heat to the
newly created pair.
19. Yggdrasil'. cf. stanza 2 and note, and Grimnismol, 29-35
and notes. Urth ("The Past") : one of the three great Norns.
The world-ash is kept green by being sprinkled with the mar-
velous healing water from her well.
20. The maidens: the three Norns; possibly this stanza
should follow stanza 8. Dwelling: Regius has "sae" (sea) instead
of "sal" (hall, home), and many editors have followed this
reading, although Snorri's prose paraphrase indicates "sal."
Urth, Verthandi and Skuld: "Past," "Present" and "Future."
Wood, etc.: the magic signs (runes) controlling the destinies of
men were cut on pieces of wood. Lines 3-4 are probably inter-
polations from some other account of the Norns.
21. The war I remember, the first in the world,
When the gods with spears had smitten Gollveig,
And in the hall of Hor had burned her, —
Three times burned, and three times born,
Oft and again, yet ever she lives.
22. Heith they named her who sought their home,
The wide-seeing witch, in magic wise;
Minds she bewitched that were moved by her
To evil women a joy she was.
21. This follows stanza 20 in Regius; in the Hauksbok version
stanzas 25, 26, 27, 40 and 41 come between stanzas 20 and 21.
Editors have attempted all sorts of rearrangements. The 'luar:
the first war was that between the gods and the Wanes. The
cult of the Wanes (Vanir) seems to have originated among the
seafaring folk of the Baltic and the southern shores of the North
Sea, and to have spread thence into Norway in opposition to the
worship of the older gods; hence the "war." Finally the two
types of divinities were worshipped in common; hence the
treaty which ended the war with the exchange of hostages.
Chief among the Wanes were Njorth and his children, Freyr and
Freyja, all of whom became conspicuous among the gods. Be-
yond this we know little of the Wanes, who seem originally to
have been water-deities. / remember: the manuscripts have "she
remembers," but the Volva is apparently still speaking of her
own memories, as in stanza 2. Gollveig ("Gold-Might") : appar-
ently the first of the Wanes to come among the gods, her ill-
treatment being the immediate cause of the war. Miillenhoff
maintains that Gollveig is another name for Freyja. Lines 5-6,
one or both of them probably interpolated, seem to s3'mbolize the
refining of gold by fire. Hot ("The High One") : Othin.
22. Heith ("Shining One"?): a name often applied to wise-
women and prophetesses. The application of this stanza to
Gollveig is far from clear, though the reference may be to the
23. On the host his spear did Othin hurl,
Then in the world did war first come;
The wall that girdled the gods was broken,
And the field by the warlike Wanes was trodden.
24. Then sought the gods their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, and council held,
Whether the gods should tribute give.
Or to all alike should worship belong.
25. Then sought the gods their assembly-seats.
The holy ones, and council held,
To find who with venom the air had filled.
Or had given Oth's bride to the giants* brood.
magic and destructive power of gold. It is also possible that
the stanza is an interpolation. Bugge maintains that it applies to
the Volva who is reciting the poem, and makes it the opening
stanza, following it with stanzas 28 and 30, and then going on
with stanzas i if. The text of line 2 is obscure, and has been
23. This stanza and stanza 24 have been transposed from the
order in the manuscripts, for the former describes the battle and
the victory of the Wanes, after which the gods took council, de-
bating whether to pay tribute to the victors, or to admit them,
as was finally done, to equal rights of worship.
25. Possibly, as Finn Magnusen long ago suggested, there is
something lost after stanza 24, but it was not the custom of the
Eddie poets to supply transitions which their hearers could
generally be counted on to understand. The story referred to
in stanzas 25-26 (both quoted by Snorri) is that of the rebuild-
ing of Asgarth after its destruction by the Wanes. The gods em-
ployed a giant as builder, who demanded as his reward the sun
and moon, and the goddess Freyja for his wife. The gods, ter-
rified by the rapid progress of the work, forced Loki, who had
advised the bargain, to delay the giant by a trick, so that the
26. In swelling rage then rose up Thor, —
Seldom he sits when he such things hears, —
And the oaths were broken, the words and bonds,
The mighty pledges between them made.
27. I know of the horn of Heimdall, hidden
Under the high-reaching holy tree;
On it there pours from Valfather's pledge
A mighty stream: would you know yet more?
work was not finished in tlie stipulated time (cf. Gritnnismol, 44,
note). The enraged giant then threatened the gods, whereupon
Thor slew him. 0th' s bride: Freyja; of Oth little is known be-
yond the fact that Snorri refers to him as a man who "went
away on long journeys."
26. Thor: the thunder-god, son of Othin and Jorth (Earth) ;
cf . particularly Harbarthsljoth and Thrymskvitha, passim. Oaths,
etc.: the gods, by violating their oaths to the giant who rebuilt
Asgarth, aroused the undying hatred of the giants' race, and
thus the giants were among their enemies in the final battle.
27. Here the Volva turns from her memories of the past to a
statement of some of Othin's own secrets in his eternal search for
knowledge (stanzas 27-29). Bugge puts this stanza after stanza
29. The horn of Heimdall: the Gjallarhorn ("Shrieking Horn"),
with which Heimdall, watchman of the gods, will summon them
to the last battle. Till that time the horn is buried under
Yggdrasil. Valfather's pledge: Othin's eye (the sun?), which
he gave to the water-spirit Mimir (or Mim) in exchange for
the latter's wisdom. It appears here and in stanza 29 as a drink-
ing-vessel, from which Mimir drinks the magic mead, and from
which he pours water on the ash Yggdrasil. Othin's sacrifice of
his eye in order to gain knowledge of his final doom is one
of the series of disasters leading up to the destruction of the
gods. There were several differing versions of the story of
Othin's relations with Mimir; another one, quite incompatible
with this, appears in stanza 47. In the manuscripts / knotu and
/ see appear as "she knows" and "she sees" (cf. note on 21).
28. Alone I sat when the Old One sought me,
The terror of gods, and gazed in mine eyes :
"What hast thou to ask ? why comest thou hither ?
Othin, I know where thine eye is hidden."
29. I know where Othin's eye is hidden,
Deep in the wide-famed well of Mimir;
Mead from the pledge of Othin each morn
Does Mimir drink: would you know yet more?
30. Necklaces had I and rings from Heerfather,
Wise was my speech and my magic wisdom ;
Widely I saw over all the worlds.
28. The Hauksbok version omits all of stanzas 28-34, stanza
27 being there followed by stanzas 40 and 41. Regius indicates
stanzas 28 and 29 as a single stanza. Bugge puts stanza 28 after
stanza 22, as the second stanza of his reconstructed poem. The
Volva here addresses Othin directly, intimating that, although
he has not told her, she knows why he has come to her, and
what he has already suffered in his search for knowledge re-
garding his doom. Her reiterated "would you know yet more?"
seems to mean: "I have proved my wisdom by telling of the
past and of your own secrets; is it your will that I tell likewise
of the fate in store for you?" The Old One: Othin.
29. The first line, not in either manuscript, is a conjectural
emendation based on Snorri's paraphrase. Bugge puts this stanza
after stanza 20.
30. This is apparently the transitional stanza, in which the
Volva, rewarded by Othin for her knowledge of the past (stanzas
1-29), is induced to proceed with her real prophecy (stanzas
31-66). Some editors turn the stanza into the third person,
making it a narrative link. Bugge, on the other hand, puts it
31. On all sides saw I Valkyries assemble,
Ready to ride to the ranks of the gods;
Skuld bore the shield, and Skogul rode next,
Guth, Hild, Gondul, and Geirskogul.
Of Herjan's maidens the list have ye heard,
Valkyries ready to ride o'er the earth.
32. I saw for Baldr, the bleeding god,
The son of Othin, his destiny set:
after stanza 28 as the third stanza of the poem. No lacuna is
indicated in the manuscripts, and editors have attempted various
emendations. Heer father ("Father of the Host") : Othin.
31. Valkyries: these "Choosers of the Slain" (cf. stanza i,
note) bring the bravest warriors killed in battle to Valhall, in
order to re-enforce the gods for their final struggle. They are
also called "Wish-Maidens," as the fulfillers of Othin's wishes.
The conception of the supernatural warrior-maiden was pre-
sumably brought to Scandinavia in very early times from the
South-Germanic races, and later it was interwoven with the
likewise South-Germanic tradition of the swan-maiden. A third
complication developed when the originally quite human women
of the hero-legends were endowed with the qualities of both
Valkyries and swan-maidens, as in the cases of Brynhild (cf.
Gripisspo, introductory note), Svava (cf. Hetgakvitha Hjor-
varthssonar, prose after stanza 5 and note) and Sigrun (cf.
Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 17 and note). The list of names
here given may be an interpolation; a quite different list is
given in Grimnismol, 36. Ranks of the gods: some editors regard
the word thus translated as a specific place name. Herjan
("Leader of Hosts") : Othin. It is worth noting that the name
Hild ("Warrior") is the basis of Bryn-hild ("Warrior in Mail-
32. Baldr: The death of Baldr, the son of Othin and Frigg,
was the first of the great disasters to the gods. The story is fully
told by Snorri. Frigg had demanded of all created things, saving
only the mistletoe, which she thought too weak to be worth trou-
Famous and fair in the lofty fields,
Full grown in strength the mistletoe stood.
33. From the branch which seemed so slender and
Came a harmful shaft that Hoth should hurl ;
But the brother of Baldr was born ere long,
And one night old fought Othin's son.
34. His hands he washed not, his hair he combed not,
Till he bore to the bale-blaze Baldr's foe.
But in Fensalir did Frigg weep sore
For Valhall's need: would you know yet more?
35. One did I see In the wet woods bound,
A lover of ill, and to Loki like ;
bling about, an oath that they would not harm Baldr. Thus it
came to be a sport for the gods to hurl weapons at Baldr, who,
of course, was totally unharmed thereby. Loki, the trouble-maker,
brought the mistletoe to Baldr's blind brother, Hoth, and guided
his hand in hurling the twig. Baldr was slain, and grief came
upon all the gods. Cf. Baldrs Draumar.
33. The lines in this and the following stanza have been
combined in various ways by editors, lacunae having been freely
conjectured, but the manuscript version seems clear enough.
The brother of Baldr: Vali, whom Othin begot expressly to
avenge Baldr's death. The day after his birth he fought and slew
34. Frigg: Othin's wife. Some scholars have regarded her as
a solar myth, calling her the sun-goddess, and pointing out that
her home in Fensalir ("the sea-halls") symbolizes the daily
setting of the sun beneath the ocean horizon.
35. The translation here follows the Regius version. The
Hauksbok has the same final two lines, but in place of the first
36. From the east there pours through poisoned vales
With swords and daggers the river Slith.
37. Northward a hall in Nithavellir
Of gold there rose for Sindri's race;
And in Okolnir another stood,
Where the giant Brimir his beer-hall had.
pair has, "I know that Vali his brother gnawed, / With his
bowels then was Loki bound." Many editors have followed
this version of the whole stanza or have included these two
lines, often marking them as doubtful, with the four from
Regius. After the murder of Baldr, the gods took Loki and bound
him to a rock with the bowels of his son Narfi, who had just
been torn to pieces by Loki's other son, Vali. A serpent was
fastened above Loki's head, and the venom fell upon his face.
Loki's wife, Sigyn, sat by him with a basin to catch the venom,
but whenever the basin was full, and she went away to empty it,
then the venom fell on Loki again, till the earth shook with his
struggles. "And there he lies bound till the end." Cf. Lokasenna,
36. Stanzas 36-39 describe the homes of the enemies of the
gods: the giants (36), the dwarfs (37), and the dead in the
land of the goddess Hel (38-39). The Hauksbok version omits
stanzas 36 and 37. Regius unites 36 with 37, but most editors
have assumed a lacuna. Slith ("the Fearful") : a river in the
giants' home. The "swords and daggers" may represent the icy
37. Nithavellir ("the Dark Fields") : a home of the dwarfs.
Perhaps the word should be "Nithafjoll" ("the Dark Crags").
Sindri: the great worker in gold among the dwarfs. Okolnir
38. A hall I saw, far from the sun,
On Nastrond it stands, and the doors face north ;
Venom drops through the smoke-vent down,
For around the walls do serpents wind.
39. I saw there wading through rivers wild
Treacherous men and murderers too.
And workers of ill with the wives of men ;
There Nithhogg sucked the blood of the slain,
And the wolf tore men; would you know yet
("the Not Cold") : possibly a volcano. Brimir: the giant (pos-
sibly Ymir) out of whose blood, according to stanza 9, the
dwarfs were made; the name here appears to mean simply the
leader of the dwarfs.
38. Stanzas 38 and 39 follow stanza 43 in the Hauksbok ver-
sion. Snorri quotes stanzas 38, 39, 40 and 41, though not consecu-
tively. Nastrond ("Corpse-Strand") : the land of the dead, ruled
by the goddess Hel. Here the wicked undergo tortures. Smoke-
vent: the phrase gives a picture of the Icelandic house, with its
opening in the roof serving instead of a chimney.
39. The stanza is almost certainly in corrupt form. The
third line is presumably an interpolation, and is lacking in most
of the late paper manuscripts. Some editors, hbwever, have
called lines 1-3 the remains of a full stanza, with the fourth
line lacking, and lines 4-5 the remains of another. The stanza
depicts the torments of the two worst classes of criminals known
to Old Norse morality — oath-breakers and murderers. Nithhogg
("the Dread Biter") : the dragon that lies beneath the ash
Yggdrasil and gnaws at its roots, thus sj^mbolizing the destruc-
tive elements in the universe; cf. Grimnismol, 32, 35. The ivolf:
presumably the wolf Fenrir, one of the children of Loki and the
giantess Angrbotha (the others being Mithgarthsorm and the
goddess Hel), who was chained by the gods with the marvelous
chain Gleipnir, fashioned by a dwarf "out of six things: the
40. The giantess old in Ironwood sat,
In the east, and bore the brood of Fenrir ;
Among these one in monster's guise
Was soon to steal the sun from the sky.
41. There feeds he full on the flesh of the dead,
And the home of the gods he reddens with gore ;
Dark grows the sun, and in summer soon
Come mighty storms : would you know yet more ?
42. On a hill there sat, and smote on his harp,
Eggther the joyous, the giants' warder;
Above him the cock in the bird-wood crowed.
Fair and red did Fjalar stand.
noise of a cat's step, the beards of women, the roots of mountains,
the nerves of bears, the breath of fishes, and the spittle of birds."
The chaining of Fenrir cost the god Tyr his right hand; cf.
40. The Hauksbok version inserts after stanza 39 the refrain-
stanza (44.), and puts stanzas 40 and 41 between 27 and 21.
With this stanza begins the account of the final struggle itself.
The giantess: her name is nowhere stated, and the only other
reference to Ironwood is in Grimnismoi, 39, in this same con-
nection. The children of this giantess and the wolf Fenrir are
the wolves Skoll and Hati, the first of whom steals the sun, the
second the moon. Some scholars naturally see here an eclipse-
41. In the third line many editors omit the comma after
"sun," and put one after "soon," making the two lines run:
"Dark grows the sun in summer soon, / Mighty storms — "
etc. Either phenomenon in summer would be sufficiently striking.
42. In the Hauksbok version stanzas 42 and 43 stand between
stanzas 44 and 38. Eggther: this giant, who seems to be the
watchman of the giants, as Heimdall is that of the gods and Surt
of the dwellers in the fire-world, is not mentioned elsewhere in
43. Then to the gods crowed Gollinkambi,
He wakes the heroes in Othin's hall;
And beneath the earth does another crow,
The rust-red bird at the bars of Hel.
44. Now Garm howls loud before Gnipahellir,
The fetters will burst, and the wolf run free ;
Much do I know, and more can see
Of the fate of the gods, the mighty in fight.
45. Brothers shall fight and fell each other,
And sisters' sons shall kinship stain;
the poems. Fjalar, the cock whose crowing wakes the giants for
the final struggle.
43. Gollinkambi ("Gold-Comb") : the cock who wakes the gods
and heroes, as Fjalar does the giants. The rust-red bird: the
name of this bird, who wakes the people of Hel's domain, is
44. This is a refrain-stanza. In Regius it appears in full
only at this point, but is repeated in abbreviated form before
stanzas 50 and 59. In the Hauksbok version the full stanza comes
first between stanzas 35 and 42, then, in abbreviated form, it
occurs four times: before stanzas 45, 50, 55, and 59. In the
Hauksbok line 3 runs: "Farther I see and more can say."
Garm: the dog who guards the gates of Hel's kingdom; cf.
Baldrs Draumar, 2 ff, and Grimnismol, 44. Gniparhellir ("the
Cliff-Cave") : the entrance to the world of the dead. The luolf:
Fenrir; cf. stanza 39 and note.
45. From this point on through stanza 57 the poem is quoted
by Snorri, stanza 49 alone being omitted. There has been much
discussion as to the status of stanza 45. Lines 4 and 5 look like
an interpolation. After line 5 the Hauksbok has a line running:
"The world resounds, the witch is flying." Editors have
arranged these seven lines in various ways, with lacunae freely
indicated. Sisters' sons: in all Germanic countries the relations
between uncle and nephew were felt to be particularly close.
Many of the chief facts regarding the Atlamol, which follows
the Atlakvitha in the Codex Regius, are outlined in the intro-
ductory note to the earlier Atli lay. That the superscription in
the manuscript is correct, and that the poem was actually com-
posed in Greenland, is generally accepted; the specific reference
to polar bears (stanza 17), and the general color of the entire
poem make this origin exceedingly likely. Most critics, again,
agree in dating the poem nearer iioo than 1050. As to its state
of preservation there is some dispute, but, barring one or two
possible gaps of some importance, and the usual number of
passages in which the interpolation or omission of one or two
lines may be suspected, the Atlamol has clearly come down to us
in fairly good shape.
Throughout the poem the epic quality of the story itself is
overshadowed by the romantically sentimental tendencies of the
poet, and by his desire to adapt the narrative to the understand-
ing of his fellow-Greenlanders. The substance of the poem is
the same as that of the Atlakvitha; it tells of Atli's message to
the sons of Gjuki, their journey to Atli's home, the slaying of
Hogni and Gunnar, Guthrun's bitterness over the death of her
brothers, and her bloody revenge on Atli. Thus in its bare out-
line the Atlamol represents simply the Prankish blending of the
legends of the slaughter of the Burgundians and the death of
Attila (cf. Gripisspo, introductory note). But here the resem-
blance ends. The poet has added characters, apparently of his
own creation, for the sake of episodes which would appeal to
both the men and the women of the Greenland settlement. Sea
voyages take the place of journeys by land; Atli is reproached,
not for cowardice in battle, but for weakness at the Thing or
great council. The additions made by the poet are responsible
for the Atlamol's being the longest of all the heroic poems in
the Eddie collection, and they give it a kind of emotional vivid-
ness, but it has little of the compressed intensity of the older
poems. Its greatest interest lies in its demonstration of the manner
in which a story brought to the North from the South Germanic
lands could be adapted to the understanding and tastes of its
[ 499 ]
eleventh century hearers without any material change of the
In what form or forms the story of the Gjukungs and Atli
reached the Greenland poet cannot be determined, but it seems
likely that he was familiar with older poems on the subject, and
possibly with the Atlakvitha itself. That the details which are
peculiar to the Atlamol, such as the figures of Kostbera and
Glaumvor, existed in earlier tradition seems doubtful, but the
son of Hogni, who aids Guthrun in the slaying of Atli, appears,
though under another name, in other late versions of the story,
and it is impossible to say just how much the poet relied on his
own imagination and how far he found suggestions and hints
in the prose or verse stories of Atli with which he was familiar.
The poem is in Malahattr (cf. Introduction) throughout, the
verse being far more regular than in the Atlakvitha. The com-
pilers of the Volsungasaga evidently knew it in very much the
form in which we now have it, for in the main it is paraphrased
with great fidelity.
1. There are many who know how of old did men
In counsel gather; little good did they get;
In secret they plotted, it was sore for them later,
And for Gjuki's sons, whose trust they deceived.
2. Fate grew for the princes, to death they were
111 counsel was Atli's, though keenness he had ;
1. Men: Atli and his advisers, with whom he planned the
death of the sons of Gjuki, Gunnar and Hogni. The poet's ref-
erence to the story as well known explains the abruptness of
his introduction, without the mention of Atli's name, and his
reference to Guthrun in stanza 3 simply as "the woman"
("husfreyja," goddess of the house).
2. Princes: Atli, Gunnar, and Hogni. Buliuark: Atli's slaying
He felled his staunch bulwark, his own sorrow
Soon a message he sent that his kinsmen should
3. Wise was the woman, she fain would use wisdom,
She saw well what meant all they said in secret;
From her heart it was hid how help she might
The sea they should sail, while herself she should
4. Runes did she fashion, but false Vingi made them,
The speeder of hatred, ere to give them he sought ;
Then soon fared the warriors whom Atli had
And to Limafjord came, to the home of the kings.
5. They were kindly with ale, and fires they kindled.
of his wife's brothers, who were ready to support and defend
him in his greatness, was the cause of his own death.
3. The ivoman: Guthrun, concerning whose marriage to Atli
cf. Guthrunarkvitha II, The sea: a late and essentially Green-
land variation of the geography of the Atli story. Even the
Atlakmtha, perhaps half a century earlier, separates Atli's land
from that of the Gjukungs only by a forest.
4. Runes: on the two versions of Guthrun's warning, and
also on the name of the messenger (here Vingi), cf. Drap
Niflunga and note. Limafjord: probably the Limfjord of north-
ern Jutland, an important point in the wars of the eleventh
century. The name was derived from "Eylimafjpr])," i.e.,
Eylimi's fjord. The poet may really have thought that the king-
dom of the Burgundians was in Jutland, or he may simply have
taken a well-known name for the sake of vividness.
These days are the days of the Bright Lady. In some parts of Central Europe she is called Frau Perchta, supposedly from Old High German 'peraht' (shiny, beaming). Through the centuries and under the influence of christianisation she became gradually a usually frightening witch with similar duties of Krampus. She appeared during Yuletide to punish bad children. The truth is that this character of many european folk-traditions was in the old days a goddess of light, rebirth and love. Very likely we are speaking of Freya herself, queen of the gods. Around the regions where she is known, holds she many names. Frau Perchta (central-southern Germany, Alps), Frau Holle (northern Germany), Befana (Northern Italy), Santa Lucia (in her christian version, Sweden). So, even at the end of this magic time we find, after Krampus and Santa Claus, an other great deity. May the goddess of light protect our houses from cold and darkness, until the world will come to life again.