Hávamál (English pronunciation: // HAH-və-mahl; “sayings of the high one”) is presented as a single poem in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of different poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom.
The verses are attributed to Odin, much like the biblical Book of Wisdom is attributed to Solomon. The implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with Odin.
For the most part composed in the metre Ljóðaháttr, a metre associated with wisdom verse, Hávamál is both practical and metaphysical in content. Following the gnomic “Hávamál proper” follows the Rúnatal, an account of how Odin won the runes, and the Ljóðatal, a list of magic chants or spells.
The only surviving source for Hávamál is the 13th century Codex Regius. The part dealing with ethical conduct (the Gestaþáttr) was traditionally identified as the oldest portion of the poem by scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century. Bellows (1936) identifies as the core of the poem a “collection of proverbs and wise counsels” which dates to “a very early time”, but which, by the nature of oral tradition, never had a fixed form or extent. Von See (1981) identifies direct influence of the Disticha Catonis on the Gestaþáttr, suggesting that also this part is a product of the high medieval period and casting doubt on the “unadulterated Germanic character” of the poem claimed by earlier commentators.
To the gnomic core of the poem, other fragments and poems dealing with wisdom and proverbs accreted over time. A discussion of authorship or date for the individual parts would be futile, since almost every line or stanza could have been added, altered or removed at will at any time before the poem was written down in the 13th century. Individual verses or stanzas nevertheless certainly date to as early as the 10th, or even the 9th century. Thus, the line deyr fé, deyja frændr (“cattle die, kinsmen die”) found in verses 76 and 77 of the Gestaþáttr can be shown to date to the 10th century, as it also occurs in the Hákonarmál by Eyvindr skáldaspillir.
The Hávamál is edited in 165 stanzas by Bellows (1936). Other editions give 164 stanzas, combining Bellow’s stanzas 11 and 12, as the manuscript abbreviates the last two lines of stanzas 11. Some editors also combine Bellow’s stanzas 163 and 164. In the following, Bellow’s numeration is used.
The poems in Hávamál is traditionally taken to consist of at least five independent parts,
- the Gestaþáttr, or Hávamál proper, (stanzas 1-80), a collection of proverbs and gnomic wisdom
- a dissertation on the faithlessness of women (stanzas 81-95), prefacing an account of the love-story of Odin and the daughter of Billingr (stanzas 96-102) and the story of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the maiden Gunnlöð (stanzas 103-110)
- the Loddfáfnismál (stanzas 111-138), a collection of gnomic verses similar to the Gestaþáttr, addressed to a certain Loddfáfnir
- the Rúnatal (stanzas 139-146), an account of how Odin won the runes, introductory to the Ljóðatal
- the Ljóðatal (stanzas 147-165), a collection of charms
Stanzas 6 and 27 are expanded beyond the standard four lines by an additional two lines of “commentary”. Bellow’s edition inverses the manuscript order of stanzas 39 and 40. Bellow’s stanza 138 (Ljóðalok) is taken from the very end of the poem in the manuscript, placed before the Rúnatal by most editors following Müllenhoff. Stanzas 65, 73-74, 79, 111, 133-134, 163 are defective.
Stanzas 81-84 are in málaháttr, 85-88 in fornyrðislag. The entire section of 81-102 appears to be an ad hoc interpolation. Stanza 145 is also an interpolation in málaháttr.
The Hávamál (3 translations!)
via: heathen hof
Benjamin Thorpe’s Hávamál
(A fairly straightforward translation. If you want a quick reference, Thorpe’s translation is a good place to go. The language isn’t to flowery, and the text isn’t boged down with notes on the translation process, like the Bellows’ translation. )
H.A. Bellows’ Hávamál
(Of the three translations listed here, this is probably my favorite. Bellows offers a lot of notes on his word choice and interpretations that allow the reader to better understand his thought process.)
Lee M. Hollander’s Hávamál
(This translation was written to try and convey the poetic feel of the text. The language can be a bit esoteric.
Image: “The Stranger at the Door” (1908) by W. G. Collingwood.
The Dance at Alder Cove - Youth/Father/Geezer - I see you