"The Deluding of Gylfi"
From the Younger or Prose Edda
Translated by Jean I. Young
Back to Source Texts Index
King Gylfi ruled the lands that are now called Sweden. It is told of him that he gave a plough land in his kingdom, the size four oxen could plough in a day and a night, to a beggar-woman as a reward for the way she had entertained him. This woman, however, was of the family of the Æsir; her name was Gefjon. From the north of Giantland she took four oxen and yoked them to a plough, but those were her sons by a giant. The plough went in so hard and deep that it loosened the land and the oxen dragged it westwards into the sea, stopping in a certain sound. There Gefjon set the land for good and gave it a name, calling it Zealand. But the place where the land had been torn up was afterwards a lake. It is now known in Sweden as 'The Lake' (Malar).
what made Denmark larger, so that beasts of draught
the oxen reeked with sweat;
four heads they had, eight eyes to boot
who went before broad island-pasture ripped away as loot.
Fighting men showed prudence when with stones being pelted;
they let the War-God's (Sváfnir's, i.e. Óðin's) roofing glitter on their backs.
the answerer shall sit at ease.'
'Who is the foremost or oldest of all the gods?'
'He is called All-father in our tongue, but in ancient Asgarð he had twelve names:
one is All-father;
the second, Herran or Herjan (Lord or Raider);
the third, Nikar or Hnikar (Spear-thruster);
the fourth, Nikuz or Hnikuð (Spear- thruster);
the fifth, Fjölnir (Much-knowing);
the sixth, Óski (Fullfiller-of-desire);
the seventh, Ómi (One-whose-speech-resounds);
the eighth, Biflidi or Biflindi (spear-shaker);
the ninth, Sviðar;
the tenth, Sviðrir;
the eleventh, Viðrir; (ruler-of-weather)
the twelfth, Jálg or Jálk. (Gelding)'
'Where is that god What power has he What great deeds has he done?'
High One said: 'He lives for ever and ever, and rules over the whole of his kingdom and governs all things great and small.'
'He created heaven and earth and the sky and all that in them is.'
'His greatest achievement, however, is the making of man and giving him a soul which will live and never die, although his body may decay to dust or burn to ashes. All righteous men shall live and be with him where it is called Gimlé (lee-of-fire) or Vingólf, (friendly door) but wicked men will go to Hel and thence to Niflhell (adobe of darkness): that is down in the ninth world.'
'What was he doing before heaven and earth were made?'
'At that time he was with the frost ogres.'
'What was the origin of all things How did they begin What existed before?'
'As it says in the Sibyl's Vision:
'It was many aeons before the earth was created that Niflheim was made, and in the midst of it is a well called Hvergelmir, (bubbling cauldron) and thence flow the rivers with these names:
'The first world to exist, however, was Muspell in the southern hemisphere; it is light and hot and that region flames and burns so that those who do not belong to it and whose native land it is not, cannot endure it. The one who sits there at land's end to guard it is called Surt; he has a flaming sword, and at the end of the world he will come and harry and will vanquish all the gods and burn the whole world with fire. As it says in the Sibyl's Vision:
'How were things arranged before families came into existence or mankind increased?'
'When those rivers which are called Elivágar (rivers whipped by passing showers) came so far from their source that the yeasty venom accompanying them hardened like slag, it turned into ice. Then when that ice formed and was firm, a drizzling rain that arose from the venom poured over it and cooled into rime, and one layer of ice formed on top of the other throughout Ginnungagap.
'That part of Ginnungagap which turned northwards became full of the ice and the hoar frost's weight and heaviness, and within there was drizzling rain and gusts of wind. But the southern part of Ginnungagap became light by meeting the sparks and glowing embers which flew out of the world of Muspell.'
'Just as cold and all harsh things emanated from Niflheim, so everything in the neighbourhood of Muspell was warm and bright. Ginnungagap was as mild as windless air, and where the soft air of the heat met the frost so that it thawed and dripped, then, by the might of that which sent the heat, life appeared in the drops of running fluid and grew into the likeness of a man. He was given the name Ymir, but the frost ogres call him Aurgelmir, and that is where the families of frost ogres come from, as is said in the Shorter Sibyl's Vision:
From the Élivágar oozed drops or venom
that grew till they fashioned a giant,
all our kindred came from thence.
Because of this birth they are aye far too barbarous.'
'How did families grow thence? How was it arranged that men became numerous?
Do you believe it was a god you were speaking about just now?'
'In no wise do we consider he was a god. He and all his family were evil; we call them frost ogres. But it is said that while he slept he fell into a sweat; then there grew under his left arm a man and woman, and one of his legs got a son with the other, and that is where the families of frost ogres come from. We call that old frost ogre Ymir.'
'Where was Ymir's home, and what did he live on?
'As soon as the frost thawed, it became a cow called Auðhumla, and four rivers of milk ran from her teats, and she fed Ymir.'
'She licked the ice-blocks which were salty, and by the evening of the first day of the block~licking appeared a man's hair, on the second day a man's head, and on the third day the whole man was there. He was called Buri. He was handsome and tall and strong. He had a son called Bor, who married a woman called Bestla, daughter of the giant Bólthorn. They had three sons; the first Óðin; the second, Vili; the third, Vé; and it is my belief that that Óðin, in association with his brothers, is the ruler of heaven and earth. We think that that is his title; it is the name given to the man we know to be greatest and most famous, and you can take it that that is his (Óðin's) title.'
'How did they get on together? Was one group more powerful than the other?'
'Bor's sons killed the giant Ymir, and when he fell, so much blood poured from his wounds that they drowned the whole tribe of frost ogres with it - except for one who escaped with his household; this one is known to the giants as Bergelmir. He climbed up on to his "lur" (boat hollowed out of a tree trunk; it can also mean coffin).and his wife with him, and there they were safe. From them spring the families of frost ogres, as it is said here:
'What did the sons of Bor do next, since you believe they are gods?'
'There is a great deal to be told about this. They took Ymir and carried him into the middle of Ginnungagap, and made the world from him: from his blood the sea and lakes, from his flesh the earth, from his bones the mountains; rocks and pebbles they made from his teeth and jaws and those bones that were broken.'
'From the blood which welled freely from his wounds they fashioned the ocean, when they put together the earth and girdled it, laying the ocean round about it. To cross it would strike most men as impossible.'
'They also took his skull and made the sky from it and set it over the earth with its four sides, and under each corner they put a dwarf. These are called: East, West, North, and South. Then they took the sparks and burning embers that were flying about after they had been blown out of Muspell, and placed them in the midst of Ginnungagap to give light to heaven above and earth beneath. They gave their stations to all the stars, some fixed in the sky; others (planets) that had wandered at will in the firmament were now given their appointed places and the paths in which they were to travel. So it is said in ancient poems that from that time sprang the reckoning of days and years, as it is said in the Sibyl's Vision:
the moon did not know what might he had,
stars did not know where their stations were."
'Great tidings I'm hearing now. That was a marvellous piece of craftsmanship, and skilfully contrived. How was the Earth fashioned?'
'It is round, and surrounding it lies the deep sea, and on the strand of that sea they gave lands to the families of giants to settle, but inland they (Bor's sons) built a stronghold round the world on account of the hostility of the giants; for this stronghold they used Ymir's eyebrows, and they called it Miðgarð. They took his brains too and flung them up into the air and made from them the clouds, as it is said here:
and from his blood the seas,
crags from his bones,
trees from his hair,
and from his skull the sky.
From his eyebrows the blessed gods
made Miðgarð for the sons of men,
and from his brains were created
all storm-threatening clouds."'
'It seems to me they made great progress when heaven and earth were created and the sun and the stars given their stations and arrangements made for day and night, but whence came the men who inhabit the world?'
'When they were going along the sea-shore, the sons of Bor found two trees and they picked these up and created men from them The first gave them spirit and life; the second, understanding and power of movement; the third, form, speech, hearing, and sight. They gave them clothes and names. The man was called Ask (ash tree) and the woman Embla; (elm?) and from them have sprung the races of men who were given Miðgarð to live in. Next they built a stronghold for themselves in the middle of the world, which is called Asgarð: we call it Troy. There the gods and their kindred lived, and from then on came to pass many events and memorable happenings both in heaven and earth.'
There is a place there called Hliðskjálf, (hall of many rooms or hall of one big doorway) and when Óðin sat there on his high seat he saw over the whole world and what everyone was doing and he understood every-thing he saw. His wife, the daughter of Fjörgvin, was named Frigg, and from that family has come the kindred that inhabited ancient Asgarð and those kingdoms belonging to it; we call the members of that family the Æsir and they are all divinities. He (Óðin) may well be called All-father for this reason - he is the father of all the gods and men and of everything that he and his power created. The earth was his daughter and his wife; by her he had his first son, Ása-Thór. Might and strength were Thórs characteristics, by these he dominates every living creature.'
'How does he guide the course of the sun and moon?
'There was a man called Mundilfari who had two children. They were so fair and beautiful that he called one of them Moon and the other, a daughter, Sun; he married her to a man called Glen. The gods, however, were angered at his arrogance and took the brother and sister and put them up in the sky. They made Sun drive the horses which drew the chariot of the sun that the gods had made to light the worlds from a spark which flew from Muspell. The horses are called Árvak and Alsvið. (early walker and all strong) Under the shoulder-blades of the horses the gods put two bellows to cool them, and in some poems that is called iron-cold. (literally iron coal ) Moon governs the journeying of the moon and decides the time of its waxing and waning. He took from earth two children, known as Bil and Hjúki, as they were coming away from the spring called Byrgir carrying on their shoulders the pail called Sg and the pole Símul. Their father's name is Viðfinn. These children accompany Moon, as may be seen from earth.'
'The sun moves fast and almost as if she were afraid; she could not travel faster if she were in fear of her life.'
'It is not surprising that she goes at a great pace; her pursuer is close behind her and there is nothing she can do but flee.'
'Who is it that torments her like this?'
High One replied: 'There are two wolves, and the one pursuing her who is called Skoll is the one she fears; he will (ultimately) catch her. The other that runs in front of her, however, is called Hati Hróvitnisson, and he wants to catch the moon and will in the end.'
'What family do the wolves come from?'
High One said:
'To the east of Miðgarð in a forest called Iron Wood lives a giantess. Troll women known as Ironwoodites live in that forest. The aged giantess gave birth to many giant sons, all of them in the shape of wolves, and these two wolves have come about in that way. It is said that the one called Mánagarm (moon dog) became the most powerful member of that family; he gorges on the flesh of all who die, and he will swallow the moon and bespatter the sky and all the air with blood. Because of this the sun will lose its brightness, and the winds will then become wild and rage on every side. As it says in the Sibyl's Vision:
one of them all especially in form of a troll will seize the sun.
He is gorged with the flesh of the death-doomed and with red blood he reddens the dwellings of the gods;
sunlight of summers to come will be black and all weathers bad
'What is the way from earth to heaven?'
'No one well informed would ask such a question. Have you never been told that the gods built a bridge from earth to heaven called Bifröst?' (Quivering roadway)You will have seen it, (but) maybe you call it the rainbow. It has three colours and is very strong, and made with more skill and cunning than other structures. But strong as it is, it will break when the sons of Muspell ride out over it to harry, and their horses (will) swim over great rivers; and in this fashion they will come on the scene.'
'It doesn't seem to me that the gods built a reliable bridge when it is going to break, and (yet) they can do what they will.'
'The gods are not to blame for this structure. Bifröst is a good bridge, but there is nothing in this world that can be relied on when the sons of Muspell are on the warpath.'
Back to Top
The Prose Edda
Translated by Jean I. Young
Bowes & Bowes, 1954.
Purchase this book.
Gylfaginning Page 2
Back to Top
Back to Source Texts Index
Woden's Harrow Home