The Lay of Grimnir

(Hollander's translation)

 

 The "Grimnismal" has a didactic purpose, instruction in the

 mythology, the heavenly geography, and the nomenclature of the

 Northern Olympus.(1)

 

 

 

  It is conveyed in Othin's monologue, addressed first, as a reward,

  to young Agnar, who takes pity on his plight, and finally to his

  erstwhile favorite Geirroeth, to whom the god gradually re- veals'

  his dread identity. The epic framework has elements in common with a

  fairy story, still told in our days in northern Norway, of two

  brothers who sail to a monster-infested island where the one brother

  abandons the other to his fate in order to claim the kingdom for

  him- self. And there is a striking similarity between the story of

  the rivalry of Othin and his wife Frigg, as told in the Introductory

  Prose, and the legend about the origin of the Langobards as told in

  the Edict of their king, Rotharis (644 A.D.), and retold by the

  Langobardian monk and historian, Paulus Diaconus (ca. 800):

  "The form of the narrative is very symptomatic. The reader is to

  gather that the old cotter has given Geirroeth the counsel to make

  away with his brother; from the conversation between Othin and

  Frigg, that it was they who fostered the youths; again, that Frigg,

  in maligning Geirroeth as a miser had a double purpose -- in the

  first place, to induce Othin to visit the king whom by her emissary

  she renders hostile to the disguised god; in the second place, to

  destroy Geirroeth, since Othin would of course not let his ill

  treatment go unavenged."(2)

  The poem has suffered chiefly from accretions, which detract

  seriously from its aesthetic value: its monologic form no doubt

  tempted copyists to interpolate stray bits of lore -- some- times of

  great value -- which they were anxious to have preserved within its

  framework. For the most part, these differ in form from the

  otherwise regular ljodahattr stanzas. There are no positive

  indications as to time of composition (tenth century?) or place of

  origin. Certainly the poem is archheathen. It is handed down

  completely both in the Codex Regis and the Hauksbok; and some twenty

  stanzas are embedded in Snorri's paraphrase in the "Gylfaginning."

  King Hrauthung had two sons, Agnar and Geirroeth.(3) Agnar was ten

  years old, Geirroeth eight. One day they were rowing in a boat with

  their tackle, to catch small fry, when the wind blew them out to

  sea. In the darkness of night they were dashed against the land.

  They made the shore and found a cotter. They stayed there that

  winter. The goodwife fostered Agnar, the goodman, Geirroeth and

  counseled him in shrewdness. In spring he got them a boat, and when

  he and his wife led them down to the shore he spoke secretly with

  Geirroeth. They had a fair wind and came to their father's landing

  place. Geirroeth was forward in the boat. He leapt out on shore and

  thrust the boat back into the sea and said, "Now go where all trolls

  may take thee!" Agnar drifted out to sea; but Geirroeth went up to

  the buildings. He was warmly welcomed, and as his father had died he

  was made king and became a famous leader.

 

 

  One day, Othin and Frigg were sitting in Hlithskjalf (4) and were

  looking out upon all the worlds. Then said Othin: "Dost thou see

  Agnar, thy foster son, how he begets children with an ogress in a

  cave? But Geirroeth, my foster son, is king in the land." Frigg

  answered: "He is so grudging about his food(5) that he lets his

  guests die of hunger when he thinks too many have come." Othin said

  that this was a gross lie, and so they laid a wager about this

  matter. Frigg sent her chambermaid Fulla to Geirroeth to tell him to

  beware lest he be bewitched by a warlock who was then come into the

  land. She told him that the warlock could be recognized by this,

  that no dog was so fierce as to rush at him. But it was evil

  slander, to say that King Geirroeth was not generous about his food.

  Yet he had that man taken captive whom his dogs would not set on. He

  was clad in a blue cloak and gave his name as Grimnir,(6) and said

  no more about himself though he was asked. The king tortured him to

  make him speak, by setting him be- tween two fires; and there he

  sate for eight nights. Geirroeth had a son ten years old, who was

  named Agnar after his brother. Agnar went up to Grimnir and gave him

  a full horn to drink from and said that the king did ill to torture

  one who had done no wrong. Grimnir emptied it. By that time the fire

  had come so near him that his cloak began to burn.

 

 

 He said:

 

1. Hot art thou, blaze,   and too high, withal!

   Get, fire, thee farther away!

   My frieze coat is singed     though I flung it aloft,

   flares up the fur in the flames.

 

2. Eight nights famished    'twixt the fires I sate,

   nor did anyone fetch me food,

   but Agnar only    who after shall rule,

   Geirroeth's son, o'er the Goths.(7)

 

3. All hail to thee,    for happiness

   is given thee, Agnar, by Othin.

   Better guerdon    shalt never get

   for one beaker of beer.

 

4. The land is holy    which lies yonder,

   near to Aesir and alfs;

   in Thruthheim,(8)  there shall Thor ay dwell,

   till draws nigh the doom of the gods.

 

5. On Ydal's(9) plains     Ull hath reared him

   his hall timbered on high.

   For Frey's(10) tooth-fee    was fashioned of yore

   Alf-Home, as gift by the gods.

 

6. A third hall still,    all thatched with silver,

   was built by the blessed gods:

   in Valaskjalf (11) hall    did house himself

   Othin in olden days.

 

7. Sokkvabekk(12) called is the fourth,    which cool waters

   ripple round about;

   there Othin and Saga(13)    all their days drink,

   glad from golden cups.

 

8. Gladhome is hight the fifth    where golden shimm'ring

   Valholl(14) is widely spread out;

   here Othin chooses    every day

   weapon-slain warriors.

 

9. Easily known    to Ygg's chosen

   are the heavenly halls:

   the rafters, spearshafts;    the roofs, shield-shingled;

   and the benches strewn with byrnies.

 

10. Easily known    to Ygg's chosen

    are the heavenly halls:

    a wolf hangeth    o'er the western gate,

    and hovers an eagle on high.(15)

 

11. Thrymheim(16) is hight the sixth,    where Thjatsi dwelled,

    the etin of awful might;

    Njorth's bride there    her bower hath,

    Skathi,(17) where her father before.

 

12. Breithablik(18) the seventh;    there Baldr the good

    hath reared him his bright abode:

    in that land it lies    where least I know

    falsehood and faithlessness.

 

13. Himinbjorg(19) the eighth;    there Heimdall, they say,

    guards the holy hall;

    there the gods' warder    in goodly stead

    the mead drinks, glad in mind.

 

14. Folkvang(20) the ninth,    where Freya(21) chooses

    who seats shall have in her hall:

    half of the slain    are hers each day,

    and half are Othin's own.

 

15. Glitnir(22) the tenth,    which with gold is propped,

    and is shingled with shining silver;

    there Forseti(23)    unflagging sits,

    the god that stills all strife.

 

16. Noatun(24) the eleventh, where Njorth hath him

    reared his bright abode;

    the sinless god    his seat there has

    and rules in high-timbered hall.

 

17. Greenwoods grow,    and grasses tall,

    in Vithi,(25) Vithar's land:

    from horseback leaps    the hero, eager

    to avenge his father's fall.

 

18. By Andhrimnir(26) in Eldhrimnir(27)

    Saehrimnir,(28) the boar, is boiled,

    the best of bacons;    though 'tis barely known

    what the einherjar(29) eat.

 

19. Valfather feeds    Freki and Geri(30)

    on the flesh of the fallen;

    but weapon-glad Othin    on wine only

    lives forever and ay.

 

20. The whole earth over,    every day,

    hover Hugin and Munin;(31)

    I dread lest Hugin    droop in his flight,

    yet I fear me still more for Munin.

 

21. Thund(32) roars loudly;    sports Thjothvitnir's

    fish(33) in the foaming Rood;

    the strong stream seems    too stiff to wade

    for warriors to Valholl bent.

 

22. Valgrind(34) is the gate    that wards the gods,

    holy, nigh holy doors;

    old is that wicket,    nor wot many

    with what bolt that gate is barred.

 

23. Five hundred rooms    and forty withal

    I ween that in Bilskirnir(35) be;

    of all the halls    which on high are reared

    the greatest I see is my son's.

 

24. Five hundred doors    and forty withal

    I ween that in Valholl be:

    eight hundred warriors    through one door hie them

    when they fare forth to fight the Wolf.(36)

 

25. Heithrun, the goat    on the hall that stands,

    eateth off wrath's(37) limbs;

    the crocks she fills    with clearest mead,

    will that drink not e'er be drained.

 

26. Eikthyrnir,(38) the hart    on the hall that stands,

    eateth off wrath's limbs;

    drops from his horns    in Hvergelmi(39) fall,

    thence wend all the waters their way.

 

27.(40)[ Sith and Vith,    Soekin and Eikin,

   Svol and Gunnthro,    Fjorm and Fimbulthul,

   Rin and Rinnandi,

   Gipul and Gopul,    Gomul and Geirvimul,

   they flow by the garth of the gods;

   Thyn and Vin,    Tholl and Holl,

   Grath and Gunnthorin.

 

28. Vina is hight one,    Vegsvinn the other,

    the third, Thjothnuma;

    Nyt and Not,    Nonn and Hronn,

    Slith and Hrith,    Sylg and Ylg,

    Vil and Van,    Vond and Strond,

    Gjoll and Leiptr,    flow in the land of men,

    but hence flow to Hel.]

 

29. Kormt and Ormt    and the Kerlaugs twain,

    Thor does wade through

    every day,    to doom when he fares

    'neath the ash Yggdrasil;

    for the bridge of the gods(41)    is ablaze with flames --

    hot are the holy waters.

 

30.(42)[Glath and Gyllir,    Gler and Skeithbrimir,

    Silfrintopp and Sinir,

    Gisl and Falhofnir,    Golltopp and Lettfeti --

    these steeds ride heavenly hosts

    every day,    to the doom when they fare

    'neath the ash Yggdrasil.]

 

31. Three roots do spread    in threefold ways

    beneath the ash Yggdrasil:

    dwell etins 'neath one,    'neath the other, Hel,

    'neath the third;    Mithgarth's(43) men.

 

32.(44)(An eagle sitteth    on Yggdrasil's limbs,

   whose keen eyes widely ken;

   'twixt his eyes a fallow    falcon is perched,

   hight Vethrfolnir, and watcheth. )

 

33. Ratatosk(45) the squirrel is hight    which runneth ay

    about the ash Yggdrasil:

    the warning words    of the watchful eagle

    he bears to Nithhogg(46) beneath.

 

34.(47)[Four harts also    the highest shoots(48)

    ay gnaw from beneath:

    Dain and Dvalin,(49)    Duneyr and Dyrathror.]

 

35. [More worms do lie    the world-tree beneath

    than unwise apes may ween:

    Goin and Moin,    which are Grafvitnir's sons,

    Grabak and Grafvolluth;

    Ofnir and Svafnir(50)    ay, I fear me,

    on that tree's twigs will batten.]

 

36. The ash Yggdrasil    doth ill abide,

    more than to men is known:

    the hart browsing above,    its bole rotting,

    and Nithhogg gnawing beneath.

 

37. Hrist and Mist    the horn shall bear me,

    Skeggjold and Skogul;

    but Hild and Thruth,    Hlokk and Herfjotur,

    Goll and Geironul,

    Randgrith and Rathgrith     and Reginleif,(51)

    to the einherjar ale shall bear.

 

38. Arvakr and Alsvith,(52)    they up shall draw

    the sun's wain wearily;

    but under their bellies    the blessed gods

    have hidden the "icy irons."(53)

 

39. Svalin(54) is hight,    the Sun before,

    a shield from the shining god.

    Would smoke and smolder    both sea and land,

    if from him it ever should fall.

 

40. Skoll the wolf,    in the sky dogs him

    to the warding woods;(55)

    but Hati(56) the other,    Hrothvitnir's son,

    follows the fair orb too.

 

41. Of Ymir's(57) flesh    the earth was shaped,

    of his blood, the briny sea,

    of his hair, the trees,    the hills of his bones,

    out of his skull the sky.

 

42. But of his lashes    the loving gods made

    Mithgarth for sons of men;

    from his brow they made    the menacing clouds

    which in the heavens hover.

 

43. Will Ull(58) befriend him,    and all the gods,

    who erst the fire clenches;

    for open lie    to the Aesir all worlds,

    when kettles are heaved from the hearth.(59)

 

44. [In earliest times    Ivaldi's sons(60)

    Skithblathnir, the ship, did shape,

    the best of boats,    for beaming Frey,

    the noble son of Njorth.]

 

45. [The ash Yggdrasil    is of all trees best;

    Skithblathnir, the best of boats;

    of holy gods, Othin;    of horses, Sleipnir;(61)

    of bridges, Bifrost;(62)    of skalds, Bragi;(63)

    of hawks, Habrok;(64)    of hounds all, Garm.](65)

 

46. Now my looks have I lifted    aloft to the gods:(66)

    help will come from on high,

    from all the Aesir    which in shall come

    on Aegir's benches,

    at Aegir's feast.(67)

 

47. Grim(68) is my name,    and Gangleri,(69)

    Herjan(70) and Hjalmberi,(71)

    Thekk(72) and Thrithi,(73)    Thuth and Uth,

    Helblindi and Har.(74)

 

48. Sath(75) and Svipal(76)    and Sanngetal,(77)

    Herteit(78) and Hnikar,(79)

    Bileyg,(80) Baleyg,(81)    Bolverk,(82) Fjolnir,(83)

    Grim and Grimnir,    Glapsvith, Fjolsvith,

 

49. Sithhott,(84) Sithskegg,(85)    Sigfather,(86) Hnikuth,(87)

    Alfather,(88) Valfather,(89)    Atrith,(90) Farmatyr:(91)

    by one name was I not welcomed ever,

    since among folk I fared.

 

50. Grimnir my name    in Geirroeth's hall,

    but Jalk in Asmund's.(92)

    Was I Kjalar hight    when the hand sled I drew,

    but Thror(93) at Things,

    Vithur in wars,

    Oski and Omi,    Jafnhar, Biflindi,

    Gondlir(94) and Harbarth(95) among gods.

 

51. Svithur and Svithrir(96)    at Sokkmimir's was I,

    when the old etin I hid,

    and when Mithvitnir's,    the mighty one's,

    son I slew alone.

 

52. Thou art muddled, Geirroeth!    Too much thou hast drunk;

    of much art robbed    since rashly thou losest

    Othin's and the einherjars' favor.

 

53. Full long I spake,    but little thou mindest:

    faithless friends(97) betray thee:

    before me I see    my foster son's sword,

    its blade all dripping with blood.

 

54. A death-doomed man    will soon drink with Ygg:(98)

    not long the life left thee.

    The norns wish thee ill:    now Othin mayst see;

    come thou near if thou canst.(99)

 

55. Now Othin's my name.    Ygg was I hight,

    Thund was my name ere then;

    Vak(100) and Skilfing,    Vafuth(101) and Hroptatyr,(102)

    Gaut(103) and Jalk among gods.

    Ofnir(104) and Svafnir,(105)    they all have become

    one with me, I ween.

 

 

 

 King Geirroeth was sitting with his sword on his knees half

 unsheathed. But when he heard that it was Othin who had come to him,

 he arose and wanted to take him from between the fires. His sword

 slid from his hands with its hilt downward. The king stumbled and

 fell forward, the sword pierced him, and so he lost his life. Then

 Othin vanished; but Agnar was king in that land for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 Notes

 

 

 1 Some scholars, to be sure, see in the poem an Othin monologue of great impressiveness,

with no breaks in its unity -- one which originally had nothing to do with the King Geirroeth

motif.

2 Detter and Heinzel II, 172.

3 "Spear-Peace" (? ), that is, peace gained by the spear.

4 "Hall of Gates" or "Gate-Tower," Othin's seat in Valholl. "When' he seats himself in

the high-seat he can see all the world and the doings of every man" ("Gylfaginning," Chap.

8).

5 A cardinal sin in a king, according to Old Norse conceptions.

6 "The Masked One," Othin. He is frequently pictured as concealing his countenance by a

wide cowl.

7 Here, as frequently, used in a general and honorific sense for "warriors."

8 "Land of Strength."

9 "Yew Dales." Ull, "Glorious," is the god of archery. His weapon, the longbow, was

made out of the yew. He is, possibly, a hypostasis of Othin, or of Tyr, the god of war.

10 "Lord." He is the god of fertility and prosperity. Like Njorth (see "Vafprudnismal," Sts.

38-39), his father, he is said to be of Van origin. The "tooth-fee" is a gift to an infant when

he cuts his first tooth.

11 "Hall of Slain Warriors" (?), the first of Othin's three halls.

12 "Sunken Hall" (?). Compare with Fensalir in "Voluspa," St. 33.

13 "Seeress," Frigg. The name is etymologically connected, but not identical, with the Norse

word for "history," "story."

14 "Hall of Slain Warriors." See Valaskjalf, in St. 6 above, and, "Vafprudnismal," Sts. 40- 41.

15 Wolf and eagle, as scavengers of the battlefield, are symbolic of Othin's warlike activi-

ties. Their carved images adorn the gable ends of his hall.

16 "Noise-Home."

17 "Scathe." She is Thjatsi's daughter and Njorth's wife. See also "Harbarzljod," St. 19,

and "Lokasenna," St. 50.

18 "The Far-Shining"; properly the seat of Baldr, the god of innocence, justice, and light.

19 "Heavenly Mountains." Concerning Heimdall, see "Voluspa," St. 1, note.

20 "Battlefield."

21 "Mistress," "Queen" (feminine of Frey), the goddess of love. She is the daughter of

Njorth and the sister of Frey.

22 "Shining."

23 "The Presiding One," son of Baldr and Nanna.

24 "Shipstead," "harbor."

25 "Wide land" (? ). As to Vithar, see "Voluspa," St. 53.

26 "Sooty in the Face," the cook of Valholl.

27 "Sooty from the Fire," the kettle.

28 "Sooty Black" (?).

29 See "Vafprudnismal," St. 41.

30 Both names signify "the Greedy One." They are Othin's two wolves.

31 "Thought" and "Remembrance," Othin's ravens which bring him intelligence.

32 "The Noisy" (?), a river probably thought to flow around Valholl.

33 "The Great Wolf," Fenrir; his "fish," is possibly the Mithgarth Serpent. But the whole

stanza presents great difficulty.

34 "The Gate of the Battle-Slain."

35 Of uncertain meaning. It is the hall of Thor, who is a son of Othin.

36 Fenrir. See "Lokasenna," Note 24, and "Voluspa," St. 52.

37 Laerath seems to be identical with the tree Yggdrasil, which suffers still other harm. See

Sts. 26 and 33 ff.

38 "Oak Antlers" (?).

39 A well at the foot of Yggdrasil.

40 The following catalog of rivers is plainly interpolated. Their names refer, some to swift-

ness, others to coldness and depth. For Leiptr, see "Helgakvida Hundingsbana" II, St. 30.

41 Bifrost, "The Quaking Bridge" (see St. 45). The bearing of the passage is not clear.

42 The catalog of steeds likewise is interpolated. Their names refer to speed, bright appear-

ance, and similar qualities.

43 "Middle World" or "The Enclosure."

44 This stanza is lacking in the original. We are able to reconstruct it from Snorri's close

paraphrase ("Gylfaginning," Chap. 15). The eagle and the falcon possibly symbolize the

watchfulness of the gods.

45 "Rat Tusk."

46 See "Voluspa," Note 46. The dragon is here conceived as gnawing the roots of Yggdras-

il. See St. 36.

47 The following two stanzas are very likely interpolations.

48 Conjecturally.

49 These are, rather, dwarf names.

50 Several of these names have reference to the burrowing activities of worms and snakes.

The last two are names of Othin; see St. 55 and note.

51 The names of the valkyries indicate their warlike activities, like those of "Voluspa,"

St. 30.

52 "Early-Awake" and "Very Swift," the sun horses. See "Vafprudnismil," St. 12, and

"Sigrdrifumal," St. 17.

53 Snorri, in his "Gylfaginning," Chap. 10, has the following prosy explanation of these:

"Under their shoulders the gods placed two bellows to cool them, and in some lays these are

called 'icy irons' " (?).

54 "Cooling."

55 This passage, as well as the following, is of doubtful meaning.

56 "Hater," the son of Hrothvitnir, "the Famous Wolf," that is, Fenrir (who according to

"Vafprudnismal," St. 46-47, himself swallows the sun).

57 See "Vafprudnismal," St. 21.

58 See St. 5 and note.

59 The words of the second part of the stanza seem clear, but their meaning has so far re-

sisted convincing explanation.

60 According to "Gylfaginning," Chap. 42, they are skilful dwarfs who make a present of

the ship Skithblathnir, "the Thin-Planked," to Frey. "It is so large that all the gods may find

room in it with all their equipment." Also', it has a favorable breeze whenever its sail is

raised, and can sail both on sea and over land. It may be laid together like a cloth and put in

one's pocket. Stanzas 44 and 45 are evidently interpolated.

61 "The Runner," Othin's horse. It has eight feet. According to the story in "Gylfaginning,"

Chap. 41, it was begotten on Loki by the stallion of the giant who built the wall around

Asgarth. See "Voluspa," St. 25 and Note 24, and "Voluspa hin skamma," St. 12.

62 See St. 29, note.

63 The god of poetry and eloquence. Bragr signifies "poetry." It is uncertain whether Bragi

Boddason (ninth century), the first skald whose name and verses have come down to us, was

the prototype of the god.

64 "High-Leg."   65 See "Voluspa," St. 43.

66 The translation here offered is somewhat of a guess, no interpretation being altogether

acceptable.

67 As in the "Hymiskvida," St. 1.

68 Grim is short for Grimnir (see the Prose above). A number of the following names

cannot be satisfactorily explained.

69 "The Way-Weary."  70 "War God" (?).

71 "Helm-Bearer."  72 "The Welcome One."

73 "The Third," (with Har, below, and Jafnhar in St. 50). This trinity seems to betray

Christian influence.

74 "One-Eyed"; but, as evidenced by Jafnhar, "Equally High" (St. 50), the name was at an

early time confused with the homonymous word meaning "high."

75 "The Truthful."  76 "The Changeable." 77 "Truthfinder."

78 "Glad in Battle."  79 "[Spear-] Thruster." 80 "One-Eyed."

81 "Fiery-Eyed."  82 "Bale-Worker."  83 "The Concealer."

84 "Long-Hood."  85 "Long-Beard."  86 "Victory Father."

87 "[Spear-]Thruster." 88 "Father of All."

89 "Father of the Battle-Slain."  90 "Attacker by Horse" (?).

91 "Lord of Boatloads." This epithet shows Othin in his role (historically earlier) as god

of the merchants. Compare with Mercury-Hermes with whom he shares other important

characteristics.

92 None of the several adventures of Othin here alluded to are known.

93 "Inciter to Strife" (?). See "Harbarzljod," St. 24 and Note 18.

94 "Bearer of the [Magic] Wand."  95 "Graybeard."

96 Both epithets signify "the Wise."

97 Probably Frigg and her minion who, we are to understand, had made Geirrroeth go

counter to Othin's instruction, given him the time he was fostered by the god, to be hospitable

to guests.

98 That is, in Othin's (Ygg's) hall.

99 After these words Othin probably vanishes as, in a similar situation, he vanishes in the

hall of King Heithrek, Hervarar saga, Chap. 9. The last stanza, which botches this excellent

ending, is no doubt a later addition.

100 "Wakeful."  101 "Wayfarer."  102 "God of Gods."

103 "The God of Goths"; that is, of men (?).

104 "The Entangler," that is, in questions (see the translation for Vafthruthnir, in

"Vafprudnismal," Note 1).

105 "He Who Lulls to Sleep or to Dreams."

 

Hollander