Selections from Skaldskaparmál
On Poetic Diction
From the
Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson

Translated by Jean I. Young

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Thiazi Steals Idun | Skadhi Chooses a Mate | Of Kvasir and the Holy Mead

Odin Wins the Mead of Poetry | Of Thor's Battle with Hrungnir

Of Aurvandil | Of Thor's Battle with Geirröð | Of the Treasure of the Gods

Otter's Ransom | Of Fáfnir, Regin and Sigurð

Of Brynhild and the Niflungar | Of the Skjöldungar | Of Hrólf Kraki

Of the Battle of the Hjaðningar

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There was a man called Ægir or Hlér, who lived on the island now known as Hlésey (or Læsö). He was very skilled in magic. He went on an expedition to Asgarð to visit the Æsir, who foresaw his journey and made him welcome, although they also worked a good many spells for him. When drinking-time in the evening came round, Óðin had swords brought into the hall and they were so bright that they illumined it, and no other lights were used while the drinking went on. Then the Æsir held festival, and twelve, that is those Æsir who had to be judges, sat down in their high seats. Their names are as follows: Thór, Njörð, Frey, Tÿr, Heimdall, Bragi, Víðar, Válí, Ull, Hœnir, Forseti, Loki; the goddesses who did likewise were Frigg, Freyja, Gefjon, Iðun, Gerð, Sigyn, Fulla, Nanna. Everything he saw there seemed splendidly lavish to Ægir. All the panelling was covered with fme shields. Moreover the mead was heady and a great deal of it was drunk. Bragi sat next Ægir and they occupied themselves in drinking and exchanging stories. Bragi told Ægir many tales about the doings of the gods.

-Thiazi Steals Iðunn-

He began relating how once three Æsir, Óðin, Loki and Hœnir, had left home and travelled over mountains and desert places without any provisions. Coming down into a valley they saw a herd of oxen and took one and set about cooking it. When they thought it was ready and scattered the fire, it was not done.

Some time later when they scattered the fire for a second time and it was (still) uncooked, they began to discuss amongst themselves what could be the cause. Then they heard a voice from an oak tree above them say that what was sitting up there was preventing their meat from being done. They looked up and saw an eagle sitting there, and it wasn't a small one.

The eagle said: 'If you give me my fill of the ox, then your meat will get done.' They agreed to this. Then it sailed down from the tree and settling on the meat snatched up at once, without any hesitation, two of the thighs and both the shoulders of the ox. At that Loki grew angry and catching up a great stick and thrusting with all his might he drove it into the eagle's body. The eagle recoiled from the blow and flew up into the air with one end of the stick stuck firmly in its back and Loki clinging to the other. The eagle was flying only just high enough for Loki's feet to be dragging along stones and scree and bushes, and he thought his arms would be pulled from their sockets. He called out imploring the eagle for mercy but it replied that it would not let Loki go unless he swore an oath to bring it Iðun and her apples out of Asgarð. Loki was willing so he was released and went back to his companions, and no more is told of their journey on this occasion until they came home.

At the time agreed on, Loki enticed Iðun out from Asgarð into a wood, telling her that he had found some apples she would prize greatly and asking her to bring her own with her for comparison. Then the giant Thjazi came there in the form of an eagle, and seizing Iðun flew away with her to his house in Thrymheim.

The Æsir, however, were much dismayed at Iðun's disappearance, and they soon grew old and grey-haired. They held an assembly and asked one another when Iðun had last been heard of, and realized that the last time she had been seen she was going out of Asgarð with Loki. Then Loki was captured and brought to the assembly and threatened with death or torture. He grew so frightened that he said he would go after Iðun into Giantland, if Freyja would lend him her falcon coat. When he got the falcon coat, he flew north to Giantland. Loki arrived at the giant Thjazi's on a day when he had gone out rowing on the sea and Iðun was at home alone. Loki changed her into the form of a nut, and holding her in his claws flew off at top speed. When Thjazi came home, however, and saw that Iðun was missing, he assumed the shape of an eagle and flew afier Loki, with a tremendous rush of air in his wake. The Æsir, seeing the falcon flying with the nut and the eagle in pursuit, went out under the walls of Asgarð carrying bundles of plane shavings. When the falcon reached the stronghold, he dropped plumb down at the fortress wall and then the Æsir set fire to the plane shavings. The eagle, however, was unable to check his course when he lost the falcon and his feathers caught fire and then he did stop. The Æsir were hard by then and they killed the giant Thjazi inside the gates, and that slaying is very famous.

-Skaði Chooses a Mate-

Now giant Thjazi's daughter Skaði took helmet, coat-of-mail and a complete outfit of weapons and went to Asgarð to avenge her father. The Æsir, however, oflered her compensation and damages, and first that she should choose a husband from amongst the Æsir and choose him by his feet without seeing any more of him. Then she saw a very beautiful pair of feet and said: 'I choose this one; there's not much that's ugly about Baldr!' but that was Njörð of Nóatún.

A further condition was that the Æsir should make her laugh - which she thought would be impossible. When Loki, however, by his tricks succeeded in doing this their reconciliation was complete. We are told that Óðin (further) compensated her by taking Thjazi's eyes and throwing them up into the sky, making of them two stars.

Then Ægir said: 'It seems to me that Thjazi was very powerful. What family did he come from?'

Bragi replied: 'His father was called Ölvaldi and you would fmd it interesting if I told you about him. He possessed a great deal of gold and when he died and his sons were going to divide the inheritance, they allotted the gold they were sharing between them in this way: each was to take the same-sized mouthfuls of it. Thjazi was one of them, Iði the second, and Gang the third. So now we have the expression by which we call gold the mouthful of these giants, and we conceal it in runes or poetry by calling it their speech or words or reckoning.'

Ægir asked again: 'Where did the accomplishment known as poetry come from?'

-About Kvasir's Origins, the Holy Mead, and Suttung-

Bragi answered: 'The beginning of it was that the gods were at war with the people known as the Vanir and they arranged for a peace-meeting between them and made a truce in this way: they both went up to a crock and spat into it. When they were going away, the gods took the truce token and would not allow it to be lost, and made of it a man. He was called Kvasir. He is so wise that nobody asks him any question he is unable to answer. He travelled far and wide over the world to teach men wisdom and came once to feast with some dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar. These called him aside for a word in private and killed him, letting his blood run into two crocks and one kettle. The kettle was called Óðrörir, but the crocks were known as Són and Boðn. They mixed his blood with honey, and it became the mead which makes whoever drinks of it a poet or scholar. The dwarfs told the Æsir that Kvasir had choked with learning, because there was no one sufficiently well informed to compete with him in knowledge.

'Then the dwarfs invited a giant called Gilling to their home with his wife, and they asked him to go out rowing on the sea with them. When they were far out, however, the dwarfs rowed on to a rock and upset the boat. Gilling could not swim and was drowned, but the dwarfs righted their craft and rowed ashore. They told his wife about this accident and she was very distressed and wept aloud. Fjalar asked her if she would be easier in her mind about it if she looked out to sea in the direction of where he had been drowned. She wanted to do this. Then he spoke with his brother Galar, telling him to climb up above the door when she was going out and let a millstone fall on to her head; he said he was tired of her wailing. Galar did so. When Gilling's son, Suttung, heard of this, he went to the dwarfs and seized them and took them out to sea and put them on to a skerry covered by the tide. They begged Suttung to spare their lives offering him as compensation for his father the precious mead, and that brought about their reconciliation. Suttung took the mead home and hid it in a place called Hnitbjörg and he appointed his daughter Gunnlöð as its guardian.

'This is why we call poetry Kvasir's blood, or dwarfs' drink: or intoxication, or some sort of liquid of Óðrörir or Boðn or Són, or dwarfs' ship, because it was that mead which ransomed them from death on the skerry, or Suttung's mead or Hnitibjörg's sea.'

Then Ægir spoke: 'It seems to me that to call poetry by these names obscures things. How did the Æsir acquire Suttung's mead?'

-Óðin Wins the Mead of Inspiration-

Bragi answered: 'The story goes that Óðin left home once and came across nine serfs mowing hay. He asked if they would like him to sharpen their scythes and they said they would. So he took a hone from his belt and put an edge on their tools and they all thought they cut much better and wanted to buy the hone. He stipulated that the would-be purchaser should pay for it by giving a banquet. They replied they were all willing to do this and asked him to hand it over to them. He threw the hone up into the air, however, and as they all wanted to catch it, it ended with them all cutting one another's throats with their scythes.

'Oðin sought lodgings for the night with Suttung's brother, a giant called Baugi. Baugi said that his affairs were in a bad way; he told him that nine of his serfs had been killed and said that he had no hope of finding any other labourers. Óðin, giving his name as Bölverk, offered to do the work of nine men for Baugi, and asked as wages one drink of Suttung's mead. Baugi told him that he had nothing to do with the mead, adding that Suttung was anxious to keep it under his sole control, but he professed himself willing to go along with Bölverk to try to get hold of it. That summer Bölverk did the work of nine men for Baugi, and when winter came he asked Baugi for his wages. Then they both went to Suttung. Baugi told his brother Suttung of his bargain with Bölverk, but Suttung flatly refused them a single drop of mead. Then Bölverk said to Baugi that they must try to get hold of the mead by some kind of trick. Baugi said that that was a good idea. Bölverk then brought out the auger called Rati and said that if the auger would pierce it, Baugi was to bore a hole through the mountain. He did so. When Baugi said that the mountain had been pierced through, Bölverk blew into the hole left by the auger but chips flew up into his face. He realized then that Baugi wanted to cheat him, and told him to bore right through. Baugi bored again, and when Bölverk blew into the hole for the second time the chips were blown (all the way) through. Then Bölverk changed himself into a serpent and crawled into the auger-hole. Baugi stabbed at him with the auger but missed him. Bölverk came to where Gunrlöð was, and slept with her for three nights, and then she promised him three drinks of the mead. At his first drink he drank up all that was in Óðrörir, at his second, Són, and at his third, Boðn - and then he had finished all the mead. Then he changed himself into an eagle and flew away at top-speed. When Suttung saw the eagle in flight, however, he also took on eagle shape and flew after him. Now when the Æsir saw where Óðin was flying, they put their crocks out in the courtyard, and when Óóin came inside Asgarð he spat the mead into the crocks. It was such a close shave that Suttung did not catch him, however, that he let some fall, but no one bothered about that. Anyone who wanted could have it; we call it the poetasters' share. Óðin gave Suttung's mead to the Æsir and those men who can compose poetry. So we call poetry Oðin's catch, Óðin's discovery, his drink and his gift, and the drink of the Æsir.'

-About Thor's Battle with Hrungnir-

Bragi told Ægir that Thór had once gone to the east to fight trolls, when Óðin rode Sleipnir into Giantland and came to the giant called Hrungnir. Hrungnir asked who the man was in the golden helmet who was riding through the air and over the sea, adding that he had a remarkably fine horse. Óðin replied that he would wager his head its equal was not to be found in Giantland. Hrungnir said that Sleipnir was a fine horse, but maintained that he possessed one called Gold-mane that could step out much better, and losing his temper he sprang on to his mount and galloped after Oðin, intending to pay him out for his big talk. Óðin galloped on so hard that he was on the other side of a hill on the horizon in no time, but Hrungnir was in such a towering rage that, before he knew where he was, he was inside the gate of Asgarð. When he arrived at the door of the hall, the Æsir invited him in to drink: with them. He went into the hall and asked to be served with drink. The beakers Thór was accustomed to drink from were brought to him and Hrungnir tossed off both. When he was drunk, big words were not in short supply; he declared that he would pick up Valhalla and carry it into Giant-land, sink Asgarð in the sea and kill all the gods except Freyja and Sif whom he would carry off home with him. Then Freyja went to pour out more ale for him and he declared he would drink up all the Æsir had. When the Asir were tired of his big talk, however, they summoned Thór. At once Thór came into the hall in a fury with his hammer raised aloft and asking on whose authority sly devils of giants were drinking there, and under whose safe-conduct Hrungnir was inside Valhalla, and why Freyja was waiting on him, as if it were a banquet of the gods. Hrungnir looking at Thór in no friendly manner answered that Óðin had invited him to drink with him, and that he was there under his safe-conduct. Thór declared that Hrungnir would be sorry for this invitation before he left. Hrungnir said that it would not enhance Thór's reputation to kill him unarmed as he was, and that it would be a greater test of courage if he dared to fight him on the frontier at Grjótúnagarðar (stone fence house). 'I've been a great fool', he added, 'to leave my shield and hone at home; if I had my weapons we should fight a duel now. On the other hand, I pronounce you dastard if you are intending to kill me unarmed.' No one had ever challenged Thór to a duel before, so he would not on any account fail to meet Hrungnir in single combat. Hrungnir went off on his way home galloping furiously until he reached Giantland. This expedition of his and the fact that he had arranged to meet Thór won him great fame amongst the giants. They felt that it mattered a good deal which of them should prove victorious; they could expect the worst from Thór if Hrungnir perished, for he was strongest of them.

Then the giants made a man of clay at Grjótúnagarðar. He was nine leagues high and three broad under his armpits and they could not get a heart large enough to fit him, until they took a mare's, and this was not steady in him when Thór arrived. Hrungmr's heart is famous. It was of hard stone and sharp-edged and three-cornered like the runic character known as 'Hrungnir's heart' which has since been made that way. His head, too, was of stone, also the broad, stout shield which he held before him while he was standing at Gjótúnagarðar waiting for Thór. As weapon of attack he had a hone poised on his shoulder and he looked an ugly customer. At his side stood the clay giant called Mist Calf, and it was terrified. It is said that it made water when it saw Thór.

Thór went to the duelling ground, and with him Thjálfi. Then Thjálfí ran forward to where Hrungnir was standing and told him: 'You're taking a risk the way you're standing, giant, with your shield in front of you; Thór has seen you. Put it down on the ground beneath you for he will come at you from below.'

Hrungnir shoved his shield under his feet and stood on it, grasping the hone with both hands. At once he saw flashes of lightning and heard great claps of thunder; he was seeing Thór in his divine wrath. (The god) bore down on him at tremendous speed and brandishing his hammer hurled it at Hrungnir from a great distance. Hrungnir lifted up the hone in both hands and flung it against the hammer, and the hone colliding with it in mid-air was smashed to pieces. One part of it fell to the ground and all hone quarries have come from those fragments. The other pierced Thór's head so that he fell forward on the earth. The hammer Mjöllnir, however, struck Hrungnir in the middle of his head shivering his skull into small fragments, and he fell prone across Thór with one leg over Thór's neck. Thjálfi attacked Mist Calf and he fell with little renown.

Then Thjálfi went up to Thór to lift Hrungnir's leg off him, but he could not move it at all. When they heard that Thór was down, all the Asir went up to him to lift off the leg, but they were unable to do anything. After that Magni, the son of Thór and Járnsaxa (Iron cutlass, a giantess), came up to them - he was three years old then -and he flung Hrungnir's leg off Thór saying: 'What a pity I didn't come sooner, father; I reckon I'd have struck the giant dead with my bare fist if I had met him.' Thór stood up then and gave his son a fine welcome saying he would be a strong man:

'And', said he, 'I'll give you the horse Gold-mane' - which Hrungnir had had. Óðin spoke then declaring that Thór was doing wrong to give a fme horse like that to the son of a giantess instead of to his own father.

-Of Aurvandil-

Thór went home to Thrúðvangar with the hone stuck in his head. Then the sibyl called Gróa, wife of Aurvandil the Brave, came to him and recited spells over Thór until the hone worked loose. When Thór noticed that and felt that there was a chance of her getting it out, he wanted to reward Gróa for healing him and to make her happy. He told her the (good) news that he had waded south over Élivágar carrying Aurvandil on his back in a basket out of Giantland in the north, and, in proof of this, that one of his toes had stuck out of the basket and been frozen, so Thór had broken it off and thrown it up into the sky and made of it the star called Aurvandil's Toe. Thór added that it would not be long before Aurvandil came home. Gróa was so delighted, however, that she forgot her spells, and the hone did not work any looser; it is still in Thór's head. Hones should never be thrown across the floor as, in that case, the hone is moved that is stuck in Thór's head.

Thjóðólf of Hvin has made up a poem about this story in Haustlöng. (autumn long) Then Ægir said: 'I've been thinking that Hrungnir was a powerful person. Did Thór perform any more great exploits when he was fighting trolls?.'

-Thor's Battle with Geirröð-

Then Bragi answered: 'The story of Thór's journey to Geirröðargarðar is well worth the telling. On that occasion he had neither the hammer Mjöllnir nor the belt of strength nor the iron gauntlets, and Loki who went with him was to blame for that. It had happened once to Loki, when he was flying about amusing himself in Frigg's falcon coat, that out of curiosity he flew into Geirröð's grounds. He saw there a great hall, and settled on a window4edge and looked in. Geirröð, however, caught sight of him and ordered the bird to be captured and brought to him. The messenger found it hard to climb up the wall of the hall; it was so high. Loki was delighted that the man had such difficulty in approaching him and had no intention of flying away, until he had completed the tricky ascent. When the man reached out for him, he spread his wings for flight, bracing his feet but found them caught. Then Loki was seized and brought before giant Geirröð and, when the giant saw his eyes, he suspected that they were a man's and bade him answer him, but Loki kept silent. Then Geirrbð shut Loki up in a chest and starved him there for three months. When Geirröð took him out then and required him to speak, Loki told who he was and promised Geirröð on oath to bring Thór into Geirröð's stronghold without either hammer or belt of strength.

'Thór came to stay with a giantess called Gríð, the mother of Víðar the Silent. She told Thór the truth about giant Geirröð, that he was as cunning as a fox and a dangerous enemy. She lent him her belt of strength and iron gloves and her staff which is called Gríðs stick.

'Thór travelled until he reached the Vimur which is a very big river. He put on the belt of strength and braced himself against the current by leaning on Gríð's stick while Loki clung to the belt. When Thór reached midstream, the water rose so that it was breaking over his shoulders. Then Thór said this:

"Vimur, don't wax now
I happen to be wading through you on my way to the giants;
you know that if you do, so will my strength divine,
until it reaches up as high as heaven! "

Then Thór looked up a rocky ravine and saw Geirröð's daughter, Gjálp, standing there astride the river, and it was she who was causing it to swell. He picked up a great boulder from the river and flung it at her with the words: "A river must be dammed at its fountain-head!" He did not miss what he aimed at. At that moment he was carried ashore and catching hold of a rowan tree climbed in this way out of the river. This is why we say that the rowan is Thór's salvation.

'When Thór came to Geirröð, he and his companions were shown into a goat-shed for a lodging, with a single chair for a seat, on which Thór sat down. He then became aware that. the chair was moving up to the roof with him. He thrust Gríð's stick against the roof, pushing himself down hard into the chair. There was a great crash accompanied by loud screarning. Geirröð's two daughters, Gjálp and Greip, had been under the chair and he had broken both their backs. Then Geirröð had Thór called into the hall to compete with him in games of skill. There were huge fires down the whole length of the hall and, when Thór came face to face with Geirröð, Geirröð picked up a red-hot bolt of iron with a pair of tongs and threw it at him. Thór, however, caught it in mid-air with his iron gauntlets and Geirröð ran behind an iron pillar for safety. Thór threw the bolt and it went through the pillar and through Geirröð and through the wall and so outside and into the earth.’

'Why is gold called Sif's hair?.'

-Of Sif's Hair and the Treasures of the Gods-

'Once, for a joke, Loki, Laufey's son, cut off all Sif's hair, but when Thór got to know this he seized Loki and would have broken every bone in his body, had he not sworn to persuade the dark elves to make hair from gold for Sif that would grow like other hair. After that Loki went to the dwarfs called the sons of Ívaldi, and they made the hair and Skiðlaðnir and the spear that Óðin had, which is called Gungnir. Then Loki wagered his head with a dwarf called Brokk that his brother Eitri would not be able to make three other treasures as fine as these. When they came to the smithy, Eitri laid a pigskin in the furnace and told his brother Brokk to work the bellows and not to stop until he had taken what he had put there out of the forge. No sooner had he left the smithy than a fly settled on Brokk's hand and stung him, as he was working the bellows, but he kept them going as before, until the smith took the object from the forge - and there was a boar with bristles of gold.

'Next he put gold in the furnace and told him to blow without stopping until he returned. He went away, and then the fly came and settled on Brokk's neck, stinging him twice as badly as before. He went on blowing, however, until the smith took from the forge the gold ring called Draupnir.

'Then he put iron in the furnace and told him to blow, and said that everything would be spoiled if the bellows stopped working. This time the fly settled between his eyes and stung him on the eyelids so that the blood ran into his eyes and he could not see at all. He stopped the bellows and as quickly as possible brushed the fly away with one hand. At that moment the smith came in and said that everything in the furnace had been within an ace of being spoiled. Then he took from the forge a hammer and gave all the treasures to his brother Brokk, telling him to take them to Asgarð to settle the wager.

'When he and Loki brought out their treasures, the Æsir sat down on their thrones and the verdict given by Óðin, Thór and Frey was to stand good. Loki then gave Óðin the spear, Gungnir; Thór, the hair Sif was to have; and Frey, Skiðblaðnir, and he explained what sort of treasures they were: the spear never missed its mark, the hair would grow to her skin as soon as it was put on Sif's head, and Skiðblaðnir got a breeze to take it where it had to go as soon as its sail was hoisted, and it could be folded together like a cloth and carried in one's pouch, if so desired. Then Brokk produced his treasures. He gave Óðin the ring, saying that every ninth night eight others as heavy as itself would drop from it. To Frey he gave the boar, saying that it could run through the air and over the sea day or night faster than any horse, and that no matter how gloomy it might be at night or in the wodd of darkness, it would always be brilliantly light where it was travelling; its bristles shone so. Then he gave the hammer to Thór and said that he could hit anything that was in his way with it as hard as he could and the hammer would never break; and if he hurled it at anything he would never lose it - no matter how far it was flung it would return to his hand; also, if he desired, it could become so small that he could keep it in his shirt. It had, however, one fault; it was rather short in the handle.

'The decision of the gods was that the hammer was the most valuable of all the treasures and the best defence against the frost ogres, and they decided that the dwarf had won the wager. Then Loki offered to redeem his head but the dwarf said that he could not expect to do that. "Catch me, then!" said Loki, and when the dwarf tried to seize him he was already a long way off Loki had shoes in which he could run through the air and over the sea. Then the dwarf asked Thór to catch him and he did so. The dwarf wanted to cut off his head, but Loki said he had a claim on his head but not his neck. The dwarf took a thong and a knife and tried to pierce holes in Loki's lips to sew them up, but the knife would not cut. Then he said that his brother's awl would be better and, as soon as he had mentioned it, there it was, and it pierced the lips. He sewed up the mouth, and (Loki) tore the thong out through the holes. The thong with which Loki's mouth was sewn up is called Vartari.'

'What is the reason for calling gold "otter's ransom?’

-Otter's Ransom-

'It is said that when the Æsir, Óðin and Loki and Hœnir were exploring the whole world, they came to a river and went along it to a waterfall, and by the waterfall was an otter which was eating a salmon it had caught there and it was half-asleep. Loki picked up a stone and flung it at the otter, striking it on the head. Then Loki boasted of his catch - with one throw he had bagged an otter and a salmon. They took the salmon and the otter away with them and came to a farm which they entered. The farmer living there was called Hreiðmar. He was a powerful man with much skill in magic. The Æsir asked the farmer for lodgings there for the night, saying that they had plenty of food, and they showed him their catch. When Hreiðmar saw the otter, however, he called his sons Fáfrir and Regin, and told them that their brother, Otter (that is, he was able to change into an otter), had been killed, and also who had done the deed. Then father and sons attacked the Æsir and made them prisoner and bound them, telling them that the Otter was Hreiðmar's son. The Æsir offered to pay as large a ransom as Hreiðmar himself should demand, and those terms were agreed on and confirmed by oath. Then the otter was flayed, and Hreiðmar took the skin and told them that they had to fill it and completely cover it into the bargain with red gold. That would reconcile them. Óðin then sent Loki to the World-of-dark-elves, and he came to the dwarf called Andvari. He was in a pool in his fish shape, and Loki seizing him exacted as ransom all the gold he had in his rock dwelling. When they got there the dwarf produced all the gold he possessed and it was a very great sum of money, but he kept back in his hand a little gold ring. Loki noticed this and told him to give him the ring. The dwarf begged him not to take it from him, saying that if only he were allowed to keep it he could by its means become wealthy again. Loki said that he was to be left without a single penny and taking the ring from him was going away, when the dwarf declared that the ring would destroy everyone who owned it. Loki replied that that was all to the good, adding that the prophecy should be fulfilled, provided that he himself pronounced it in the ears of those about to take over the ring.

'He went away and came to Hreiðmar and showed the gold ring to Oðin. When Óðin saw it he admired it for its beauty and kept it back, although he paid the gold to Hreiðmar. Hreiðmar stuffed the skin to bursting and when it was full raised it up on end. Then Óðin went up to it to cover it with gold and, this done, he asked Hreiðmar to look and see if the skin was not completely hidden. Hreiðmar took a good look at it and caught sight of one whisker. He ordered this to be concealed or otherwise, he said, their agreement would be at an end. Then Oðin drew the ring from his finger and concealed the whisker, saying that now they had paid the otter's ransom. When, however, Óðin had taken his spear and Loki his shoes and there was no reason they should be afraid, Loki declared that what Andvari had said should hold good, that that ring and that gold would destroy whosoever owned them. That has been the case ever since. Now you know why gold is called otter's ransom or the forced payment of the Æsir or metal-of-strife.'

'Is anything more known about this gold?'

-Of Fáfnir, Regin and Sigurð-

'Hreiðmar accepted the gold as ransom for his son, and Fáfnir and Regin asked for some of it as a ransom for their brother. Hreiómar did not give them a single penny of it. The brothers were wicked enough to kill their father for the gold. Then Regin asked Fáfnir to go shares in the gold, but Fáfnir replied that there was little likelihood that he would share with his brother the gold for which he had killed his father, and he told Regin to go away or else he would meet with Hreiðmar's fate. Fáfnir had taken a helmet which had been Hreiðmar's and was wearing it; this struck fear into all beholders and was called the helmet of terror. He also had the sword known as Hrotti. Regin owned a sword called Refil. He took to flight but Fáfnir went up on to Gnita Heath and, making a lair there, turned himself into a dragon and lay down on the gold.

'Then Regin went to King Hjálprek in Ty (in Jutland) and became his smith there. He adopted as his foster son Sigurð, son of Sigmund, son of Völsung and Hjördis, Eylimi’s daughter. On account of his family, strength and courage, Sigurð was the most famous of all warrior kings. Regin told him where Fáfnir was lying on the gold and egged him on to seek the treasure. Regin made the sword called Gram. This was so sharp that, when Sigurð thrust it into running water, he cut in two a lock of wool carried against the blade by the current. With the same sword Sigur clove Regin's anvil to the stock. After that Sigurð and Regin went to Gnita Heath and Sigurðdug pits in Fáfnir's path and sat down in one. When Fafnir, crawling on his way down to the water, came over the pit, Sigurð ran him through with his sword and that was his death. Then Regin came and said that Sigurð had killed his brother, and offered him terms on condition that he took Fáfnir's heart and roasted it over a fire. Regin himself lay down and drank Fáfnir's blood and then went to sleep. When Sigurð thought the heart he was roasting was done, he touched it with his finger to see how tender it was, and the juice from it ran on to his fmger, burning it, so he put this into his mouth. When the blood came on to his tongue, however, he understood the language of birds and knew what the nuthatches sitting in the branches were saying. One said:

"There sits Sigurð blood-bespattered, Fáfnir's heart roasts at the fire;
wise that liberal prince would appear to me should he eat that shining heart."

"There lies Regin", said another, "revolving in his mind
how to betray the lad who trusts him;
in wrath he is collecting crooked words together,
he longs, contriver-of-evil, to avenge his brother. "

Then Sigurð went up to Regin and killed him, and afierwards to his horse which was called Grani and rode until he came to Fáfnir's lair. There he took the gold and making it into packs put it on Grani's back, mounted himself and rode on his way.

'Now you know the story explaining why gold is called Fáfnir's abode or lair, or the metal of Gnita Heath, or Grani's burden.

-Of Brynhild and the Niflungar-

'Sigurð rode on then until he came to a hall on a mountain. In it was sleeping a woman in helmet and coat of mail. He drew his sword and cut the mail-coat from her. Then she woke up and said she was called Hild. Her name was Brynhild and she was a valkyrie. Sigurð rode away from there and came to a king called Gjúki. His wife was called Grímhild and their children were Gunnar, Högni, Guðrún and Guðný. Gotthorm was Gjúki's stepson. Sigurð stayed there for a long time and married Guðrún, Gjúki's daughter, and Gunnar and Högni became sworn brothers of Sigurð's. Soon after Sigurð and the sons of Gjúki went to ask Atli Buðlason for his sister, Brynhild, as Gunnar's wife. She lived at Hindafjall and there was a rampart of flame round her hall. She had vowed only to marry that man who dared ride through the flames. Sigurð and the Gjúkungar - they are also called the Niflungar (Nibelungs) - rode up on to the mountain and Gunnar was to ride through the rampart of flame. He had a horse called Goti but it did not dare leap into the fire. Sigurð and Gunnar then changed shapes and also names, because Grani would not move under any man but Sigurð, and Sigurð vaulting on to Grani rode the rampart of flame. That evening he married Brynhild but, when they went to bed, he drew the sword Gram from its sheath and laid it between them. In the morning when he got up and dressed, however, he gave Brynhild as a wedding present the gold ring Loki had taken from Andvari, receiving another from her in exchange. Then Sigurð jumped on to his horse and rode back to his companions. He and Gunnar changed shapes again and went back to Gjúki with Brynhild. Sigurð had two children by Guðrún, Sigmund and Svanhild.

'On one occasion Brynhild and Guðrún went down to the water to wash their hair. When they reached the river, Brynhild waded out further from the bank, saying that she was not going to use the water in which Guðrún had rinsed her hair for her own head, since she had the more valiant husband. Guðrún went into the river after her then, and said that she had a right to wash her hair in water higher up the river, since she had a husband whom neither Gunnar nor anyone else in the world could match in courage, because he had killed Fáfnir and Regin and had inherited the property of both. Then Brynhild answered: "Sigurð did not dare ride the rampart of flame: Gunnar did - that counts for more. Guðrún laughed then and said: "You think it was Gunnar who rode the flames The man you slept with was the one who gave me this gold ring, and the ring you are wearing and which you received as a wedding gift is called Andvari'.s treasure, and I don't think that Gunnar got it on Gnita Heath." At that Brynhild was silent and went home.

'Afterwards she urged Gunnar and Högni to kill Sigurð but, because they were his sworn brothers, they persuaded their brother Gottliorm to kill him. He ran Sigurð through with a sword while he was sleeping, but, when Sigurð felt the wound, he hurled the sword after Gotthorm so that it cut him asunder through the middle. Sigurð and his three-year-old son called Sigmund, whom they also killed, perished there. After that Brynhild fell on her sword and she was burned with Sigurð. Gunnar and Högni, however, took Fáfnir's inheritance then and Andvari's treasure and ruled the country.

'Brynhild's brother, Ath Buðlason, married Guðrún, once the wife of Sigurð, and they had children together. King Atli invited Gunnar and Högni to stay with him and they went on this visit. Before leaving home, however, they hid the gold that was Fáfnir's inheritance in the Rhine, and it has never been found since. King Atli had troops to oppose them and these fought Gunnar and Högni and took them prisoner. King Atli had Högni's heart cut out of him while he was still living and that was his death. He had Gunnar flung into a snake-pit. A harp was procured for him in secret and, because his hands were tied, he played it with his toes in such a way that all the snakes went to sleep, but for one adder, which made for him and gnawing its way through the cartilage of his breast-bone thrust its head through the hole and buried its fangs in his liver until he was dead. Gunnar and Högni are called Niflungar or Gjúkungar; for this reason gold is called the treasure or inheritance of the Niflungar.

'A little later Guðrún killed her two sons and had goblets decorated with silver and gold made from their skulls. Then the funeral feast of the Niflungar was celebrated. From these goblets Guðrún had King Atli served with mead which was mixed with the boys' blood, and she had their hearts roasted and given the king to eat at the same banquet. When this had been done she told him about it in many ugly words. There was no lack of intoxicating mead there so that most people fell asleep where they were sitting. That same night she went to the king when he was asleep, and with her Högni's son, and they made an armed attack on him and that was his death. Then they set fire to the hall and burned the people inside it.

'After that she went down to the sea and ran into it to drown herself. She was drifted over the fiord, however, and came ashore in King Jónak's country, and when he saw her he took her home and married her. They had three sons with these names: Sörli, Hamðir, and Erp. These had hair as black as the raven, like Gunnar and Högni and the other Niflungar. Sigurð's daughter, Svanhild, grew up there and she was a very lovely woman. King Jörmunrekk the Mighty heard of this and sent his son Randvér to ask her hand in marriage for him. When he came to Jónak, Svanhild was given into his custody and he was to take her to Jörmunrekk. Then Bikki said that it would be more suitable for Randvér to marry Svanhild, since he was young, indeed they both were, whereas Jörmunrekk was an old man. The young people were delighted with this plan. Soon after Bikki told the king and Jörmunrekk had his son seized and led to the gallows. Randvértook his hawk then, and plucking off its feathers, ordered it to be sent to his father. After that he was hanged. When King Jörmunrekk saw the hawk, it struck him that just as the hawk stripped of its feathers was unable to fly, so, now that he was an old man and without a son, had he crippled his kingdom. Once when he was riding home from a wood in which he and his court had been hunting, King Jörmunrekk caught sight of Svanhild where she sat drying her hair. They rode her down and trampled her to death under their horses' hoofs.

'When Guðrún heard this, she egged on her sons to avenge Svanhild and, when they were making ready for the expedition, procured for them coats of mail and helmets which were so strong that no weapon could pierce them. She advised them, when they reached King Jörmunrekk, to attack him at night in his sleep. Sörli and Hamðir were to cut off his hands and feet, and Erp his head. On the way, however, they asked Erp to what extent they could rely on him when they came to grips with Jörmunrekk. He replied that he would help them as the hand does the foot. They said that the hand gave no help at all to the foot and they were so annoyed with their mother for having sent them out with taunts that they wanted to do what would hurt her most, so they killed Erp because she loved him best. A little later, one of Sörli's feet slipped as he was walking, and he supported himself with his hand. Then he said: "Hand helped foot just now. It would be better if Erp was alive."

'They came to King Jörmunrekk one night when he was asleep, and were cutting off his hands and feet when he awoke and shouted to his men to rouse themselves. Hamðir said: "His head would be off now, if Erp were alive!" Then Jörmunrekk's bodyguard got up and attacked them, but they could not overcome them with weapons, so Jörmunrekk called out to them to use stones. This was done, and Sörli and Hamðir fell there. With them the whole Gjúkung line came to an end.

'Sigurd left a daughter called Áslaug who was fostered by Heimir in Hlymdalir and great families have come from her.

'It is said that Sigmund Völsungsson was so strong that he could drink poison without coming to harm, and that Sinfjötli, his son, and Sigurð had such hard skins that their naked bodies were immune to poison.'

'Why is gold called Fróði's flour?'

-Of the Skjöldungar and the Mill Grotti-

'There is a story about this to the effect that there was a son of of Sin's called Skjöld from whom the Skjöldungar have come. He ruled the country which is now called Denmark (and at that time, Gotland) and had a palace there. Skjöld had a son called Friðleif who ruled the country after him. Friðleif's son was called Fróði. He inherited the kingdom after his father at the time when the Emperor Augustus made peace over the whole world. Christ was born then. However, because Fróði was the most powerful of all the Scandinavian kings, all the northern nations ascribe that peace to him, and the Norsemen call it the Peace of Fróði. No man injured another, even although he was confronted with the slayer of his father or brother, free or in bonds. Neither were there any thieves or robbers, so that a gold ring lay untouched for a long time on the Heath of Jelling (in Jutland). King Fróði was invited to stay with the king Fjölnir of Sweden. There he bought two women slaves, who were big and strong, called Fenja and Menja. In Denmark at that time there were two millstones so huge that no one had sufficient strength to turn them. These millstones were the sort that ground whatever the miller required. The mill was called Grotti and the name of the man who gave it to King Fróði was Hangjaw. King Fróði had the slaves taken to the mill and he told them to grind Fróði's gold and peace and prosperity. He would not allow them to rest or sleep for longer than the cuckoo stops its calling or it takes to ask people for a hearing. They are said then to have composed the song known as Grotti's Song and, before they finished it, they ground out an army against King Fróði, so that that same night a viking called Mýsing came and killed Fróði and captured a great deal of spoil. With that the Peace of Fróði came to an end.

'Mýsing took Grotti and Fenja and Menja away with him and ordered them to grind salt. At midnight they asked him if he was not tired of salt, but he told them to go on grinding. They had ground on for a short time only when the ship sank, and where the sea poured into the eye of the hand-mill was a whirlpool there afterwards in the ocean. It was then that the sea became salt.'

'Why is gold called Kraki's seed?'

-Of Hrólf Kraki-

'There was a king in Denmark called . On account of his mildness, valour and modesty he was in the first rank of ancient kings. Here is an example of his modesty which is often quoted in ancient tales. A small boy, and a poor one at that, called Vögg, came into Hrólf's palace when the king was young in years and slight of build. Vögg came into his presence and looked him up and down. Then the king asked: "What are you wanting to take the measure of, lad, looking at me like this."' Vögg replied: "When I was at home, I heard people say that King Hrólf of Hleiðr (Leire) was the greatest king in Scandinavia, and now there's a lanky little stick of a fellow sitting on the throne and you call him king!" The king answered: "You have given me a name, lad; I'm to be called Kraki (Stick), and it's usual for a 'name-fastening' to be accompanied by a present. Now, I can't see that you've got any such present to give me that I'd like, so the one who has is going to give." Taking a gold ring from his fmger he gave it to the boy. Then Vögg said: "Blessing on you for your gift, king, and I promise you that I will kill the man who kills you." The king laughed at that and said: "Vögg is contented with little."

'Here follows an example of Hrólf's valour. There was a king ruling Uppsala called Aðils who married Hrólf Kraki's mother, Yrsa. He was at war with a king of Norway called Áli, and they fought a great battle on Lake Vener. King Aðils sent a message to Hrólf Kraki to come to his assistance, promising to pay every man in his army while they were campaigning, and the king himself was to choose for his own three treasures from Sweden. King Hrólf was unable to go on account of his war with the Saxons, but he sent Aðils his twelve berserks. Boðvar Bjarki was one: (amongst the others were) Hjalti the Valiant, Hvítserk the Bold, Vött, Véseti, the brothers Svipdag and Beiguð. In that battle King Áli and most of his troops fell, and King Aðils despoiled him of his helmet Battle-pig and his horse Raven. Hrólf's twelve berserks asked for their pay, three pounds of gold each, and they also asked for the treasures they were choosing for King Hrólf so that they could take them to him, namely, the helmet Battle-pig, the coat of mail known as Finn's legacy, which could not be pierced by any weapon, and the gold ring called Svíagríss, which had been in the possession of Aðils' ancestors. The king, however, refused them all these treasures and kept back their pay into the bargain. The berserks went away very disgruntled and informed King Hrólf of the situation. He set out for Uppsala at once; and when he had sailed his ships up the river Fyris, he made for Uppsala on horseback and with him his twelve berserks, all of them without safe-conduct. His mother Yrsa welcomed him and accompanied him to his quarters, but not to the king's palace. Great fires were made for them and they were given ale to drink. Then King Aðils' men came and threw logs on to the fires and they became so big that Hrólf Kraki and his men had their clothes burned off them, and Aðils' men asked:

"Is it true that Hrólf Kraki and his berserks flee neither fire nor sword?"

At that Hrólf Kraki and all of them jumped up, and he said: "Let's make the fires at Aðils' still larger", and taking his shield he flung it on to the fire and jumped over it while it was still burning. He added: "The man who jumps over a fire isn't running away from it." One after another his men followed suit, and then they seized those who had made the fires larger and flung them into them. After that Yrsa came and gave Hrólf Kiaki a horn full of gold and along with it the ring Svíagríss, and bade him ride away for reinforcements. They leaped on to their horses and rode down on to the Plains of Fyris. Then they saw that King Aðils with a fully equipped army was riding after them with the intention of destroying them. King Hrólf Kiaki took the gold out of the horn with his right hand and strewed it all along the way. When the Swedes saw that, they jumped down from their saddles and each took what he could grab. King Aðils, however, ordered them to ride on and went on riding himself at a gallop. His horse was called Slungnir and it was a very swift one. When King Hrólf Kiaki saw that King Aðils was gaining on him, he took the ring Svíagríss and flinging it at him bade him accept it as a gift. King Aðils rode at the ring, picked it up with his spear-point and let it slip down to the socket. King Hrólf Kraki turned round then, saw him stooping down and said: "I've made the mightiest of the Swedes grovel like a pig", and with that they parted.

'For this reason gold is called the seed of Kraki or of the Plains of Fyris.

'Battle is called the gale or tempest, and weapons the fires or staves of the Hjaðningar, and here's the story about that.

-Of the Battle of the Hjaðningar-

'There was a king called Högni who had a daughter whose name was Hild. A king called Heðin Hjarrandason made her a prisoner of war whilst Högni was away at a royal assembly. When, however, he heard that his kingdom had been raided and his daughter carried off; he went to look for Heðin with his army. He heard that he had sailed to the north. When Högni came to Norway, however, he heard that Heðin had sailed for the British Isles. Then Högni sailed after him all the way to Orkney, and when he arrived at the island called Hoy, there in front of him was Heðin with his army. Hild went to meet her father and offered him a necklace from Heðin in reconciliation. She also let him understand, however, that Heðin was ready to fight and that Högni could not hope for any mercy from him. Högni answered his daughter curtly and, when she came to Heðin, she told him that Högni had refused to come to terms and bade him prepare for battle. So both of them went up on to the island and drew up their forces. Then Heðin called out to his father-in-law, Högni, offering him terms and a great deal of gold as compensation. Högni answered: "You are too late in making this offer for terms; I've drawn Dáin's heirloom which was made by the dwarfs; every time it is bared it slays its man, it never misses a stroke and no one recovers from the wound it gives." Heðin said: "You're boasting only of a sword, not of victory. I call any sword good that serves its master well."

'They began the battle called the Battle of the Hjaðningar and
they fought all day long. In the evening the kings went on board their ships. Hild, however, went to the battlefield by night and aroused all the dead by witchcraft. The kings went on to the battlefield a second day and fought, and with them all those who had fallen on the previous day. Day after day the battle went on, in such a way that all who fell and all weapons (left) lying on the battlefield, and even the shields too, turned to stone. At dawn, however, all the dead men got up and fought and all their weapons became new. So it says in the poems that the Battle of the Hjaðningar will last until the Twllight of the Gods. The poet Bragi composed a poem on this story in the Lay of Ragnar Shaggy-Breeks.'


The Prose Edda
Translated by Jean I. Young
Cambridge, England:
Bowes & Bowes, 1954.

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