BEOWULF AND GRENDEL: Norse

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Long ago there ruled over the Danes a king called Hrothgar. He gained success and glory in war, so that his loyal kinsmen willingly obeyed him, and everything prospered in his land.

One day it came into his mind that he would build a princely banquet-hall, where he might entertain both the young and old of his kingdom; and he had the work widely made known to many a tribe over the earth, so that they might bring rich gifts to beautify the hall.

In course of time the banquet-house was built and towered aloft, high and battlemented. Then Hrothgar gave it the name of Heorot, and called his guests to the banquet, and gave them gifts of rings and other treasures; and afterwards every day the joyous sound of revelry rang loud in the hall, with the music of the harp and the clear notes of the singers.

But it was not long before the pleasure of the king’s men was broken, for a wicked demon began to work mischief against them. This cruel spirit was called Grendel, and he dwelt on the moors and among the fens. One night he came to Heorot when the noble guests lay at rest after the feast, and seizing thirty thanes as they slept, set off on his homeward journey, exulting in his booty.

At break of day his deed was known to all men, and great was the grief among the thanes. The good King Hrothgar also sat in sorrow, suffering heavy distress for the death of his warriors. Not long afterwards Grendel again appeared, and wrought a yet worse deed of murder. After that the warriors no longer dared to sleep at Heorot, but sought out secret resting-places, leaving the great house empty. 

A long time passed. For the space of twelve winters Grendel waged a perpetual feud against Hrothgar and his people; the livelong night he roamed over the misty moors, visiting Heorot, and destroying both the tried warriors and the young men whenever he was able. Hrothgar was broken-hearted, and many were the councils held in secret to deliberate what it were best to do against these fearful terrors; but nothing availed to stop the fiend’s ravages. 

Now the tale of Grendel’s deeds went forth into many lands; and amongst those who heard of it were the Geats, whose king was Higelac. Chief of his thanes was a noble and powerful warrior named Beowulf, who resolved to go to the help of the Danes. He bade his men make ready a good sea-boat that he might go across the wild swan’s path to seek out Hrothgar and aid him; and his people encouraged him to go on that dangerous errand even though he was dear to them. 

So Beowulf chose fourteen of his keenest warriors, and sailed away over the waves in his well-equipped vessel, till he came within sight of the cliffs and mountains of Hrothgar’s kingdom. The Danish warder, who kept guard over the coast, saw them as they were making their ship fast and carrying their bright weapons on shore. So he mounted his horse and rode to meet them, bearing in his hand his staff of office; and he questioned them closely as to whence they came and what their business was. 

Then Beowulf explained their errand, and the warder, when he had heard it, bade them pass onwards, bearing their weapons, and gave orders that their ship should be safely guarded. Soon they came within sight of the fair palace Heorot, and the warder showed them the way to Hrothgar’s court, and then bade them farewell, and returned to keep watch upon the coast. 

Then the bold thanes marched forward to Heorot, their armor and their weapons glittering as they went. Entering the hall, they set their shields and bucklers against the walls, placed their spears upright in a sheaf together, and sat down on the benches, weary with their seafaring. 

Then a proud liegeman of Hrothgar’s stepped forward and asked: “Whence bring ye your shields, your gray war-shirts and frowning helmets, and this sheaf of spears? Never saw I men of more valiant aspect.” 

“We are Higelac’s boon companions,” answered Beowulf. “Beowulf is my name, and I desire to declare my errand to the great prince, thy lord, if he will grant us leave to approach him.”

 So Wulfgar, another of Hrothgar’s chieftains, went out to the king where he sat with the assembly of his earls and told him of the arrival of the strangers, and Hrothgar received the news with joy, for he had known Beowulf when he was a boy, and had heard of his fame as a warrior. Therefore he bade Wulfgar bring him to his presence, and soon

Beowulf stood before him and cried: “Hail to thee, Hrothgar! I have heard the tale of Grendel, and my people, who know my strength and prowess, have counseled me to seek thee out. For I have wrought great deeds in the past, and now I shall do battle against this monster. Men say that so thick is his tawny hide that no weapon can injure him. I therefore disdain to carry sword or shield into the combat, but will fight with the strength of my arm only, and either I will conquer the fiend or he will bear away my dead body to the moor. Send to Higelac, if I fall in the fight, my beautiful breastplate. I have no fear of death, for Destiny must ever be obeyed.” 

Then Hrothgar told Beowulf of the great sorrow caused to him by Grendel’s terrible deeds, and of the failure of all the attempts that had been made by the warriors to overcome him; and afterwards he bade him sit down with his followers to partake of a meal. 

So a bench was cleared for the Geats, and a thane waited upon them, and all the noble warriors gathered together, and a great feast was held once more in Heorot with song and revelry. Waltheow, Hrothgar’s queen, came forth also, and handed the wine-cup to each of the thanes, pledging the king in joyful mood and thanking Beowulf for his offer of help. 

At last all the company arose to go to rest; and Hrothgar entrusted the guardianship of Heorot to Beowulf with cheering words, and so bade him good night. Then all left the hall, save only a watch appointed by Hrothgar, and Beowulf himself with his followers, who laid themselves down to rest. 

No long time passed before Grendel came prowling from his home on the moors under the misty slopes. Full of his evil purpose, he burst with fury into the hall and strode forward raging, a hideous, fiery light gleaming from his eyes. In the hall lay the warriors asleep, and Grendel laughed in his heart as he gazed at them, thinking to feast upon them all. Quickly he seized a sleeping warrior and devoured him; then, stepping forward, he reached out his hand towards Beowulf as he lay at rest. But the hero was ready for him, and seized his arm in a deadly grip such as Grendel had never felt before. Terror arose in the monster’s heart, and his mind was bent on flight; but he could not get away.

 Then Beowulf stood upright and grappled with him firmly, and the two rocked to and fro in the struggle, knocking over benches and shaking the hall with the violence of their fight. Suddenly a new and terrible cry arose, the cry of Grendel in fear and pain, for never once did Beowulf relax his hold upon him. Then many of Beowulf’s earls drew their swords and rushed to aid their master; but no blade could pierce him and nothing but Beowulf’s mighty strength could prevail. At last the monster’s arm was torn off at the shoulder, and sick unto death, he fled to the fens, there to end his joyless life. Then Beowulf rejoiced at his night’s work, wherein he had freed Heorot forever from the fiend’s ravages.

 Now on the morrow the warriors flocked to the hall; and when they heard what had taken place, they went out and followed Grendel’s tracks to a mere upon the moors, into which he had plunged and given up his life. Then, sure of his death, they returned rejoicing to Heorot, talking of Beowulf’s glorious deed; and there they found the king and queen and a great company of people awaiting them. And now there was great rejoicing and happiness. Fair and gracious were the thanks that Hrothgar gave to Beowulf, and great was the feast prepared in Heorot. Cloths embroidered with gold were hung along the walls and the hall was decked in every possible way.

 When all were seated at the feast, Hrothgar bade the attendants bring forth his gifts to Beowulf as a reward of victory. He gave him an embroidered banner, a helmet and breastplate, and a valuable sword, all adorned with gold and richly ornamented. Also he gave orders to the servants to bring into the court eight horses, on one of which was a curiously adorned and very precious saddle, which the king was wont to use himself when he rode to practice the sword-game. These also he gave to Beowulf, thus like a true man requiting his valiant deeds with horses and other precious gifts. He bestowed treasures also on each of Beowulf’s followers and gave orders that a price should be paid in gold for the man whom the wicked Grendel had slain.

 After this there arose within the hall the din of voices and the sound of song; the instruments also were brought out and Hrothgar’s minstrel sang a ballad for the delight of the warriors. Waltheow too came forth, bearing in her train presents for Beowulf–a cup, two armlets, raiment and rings, and the largest and richest collar that could be found in all the world.

 Now when evening came Hrothgar departed to his rest, and the warriors cleared the hall and lay down to sleep once more, with their shields and armor beside them as was their custom. But Beowulf was not with them, for another resting-place had been assigned to him that night, for all thought that there was now no longer any danger to be feared.

 But in this they were mistaken, as they soon learnt to their cost. For no sooner were they all asleep than Grendel’s mother, a monstrous witch who dwelt at the bottom of a cold mere, came to Heorot to avenge her son and burst into the hall. The thanes started up in terror, hastily grasping their swords; but she seized upon Asher, the most beloved of Hrothgar’s warriors, who still lay sleeping, and bore him off with her to the fens, carrying also with her Grendel’s arm, which lay at one end of the hall.

 Then there arose an uproar and the sound of mourning in Heorot. In fierce and gloomy mood Hrothgar summoned Beowulf and told him the ghastly tale, begging him, if he dared, to go forth to seek out the monster and destroy it.

 Full of courage, Beowulf answered with cheerful words, promising that Grendel’s mother should not escape him; and soon he was riding forth fully equipped on his quest, accompanied by Hrothgar and many a good warrior. They were able to follow the witch’s tracks right through the forest glades and across the gloomy moor, till they came to a spot where some mountain trees bent over a hoar rock, beneath which lay a dreary and troubled lake; and there beside the water’s edge lay the head of Asher, and they knew that the witch must be at the bottom of the water.

 Full of grief, the warriors sat down, while Beowulf arrayed himself in his cunningly fashioned coat of mail and his richly ornamented helmet. Then he turned to Hrothgar and spoke a last word to him. “If the fight go against me, great chieftain, be thou a guardian to my thanes, my kinsmen and my trusty comrades; and send thou to Higelac those treasures that thou gavest me, that he may know thy kindness to me. Now will I earn glory for myself, or death shall take me away.”

 So saying, he plunged into the gloomy lake, at the bottom of which was Grendel’s mother. Very soon she perceived his approach, and rushing forth, grappled with him and dragged him down to her den, where many horrible sea-beasts joined in the fight against him. This den was so fashioned that the water could not enter it, and it was lit by the light of a fire that shone brightly in the midst of it.

 And now Beowulf drew his sword and thrust at his terrible foe; but the weapon could not injure her, and he was forced to fling it away and trust in the powerful grip of his arms as he had done with Grendel. Seizing the witch, he shook her till she sank down on the ground; but she quickly rose again and requited him with a terrible hand-clutch, which caused Beowulf to stagger and then fall. Throwing herself upon him, she seized a dagger to strike him; but he wrenched himself free and once more stood upright.

 Then he suddenly perceived an ancient sword hanging upon the wall of the den, and seized it as a last resource. Fierce and savage, but well-nigh hopeless, he struck the monster heavily upon the neck with it. Then, to his joy, the blade pierced right through her body and she sank down dying.

 At that moment the flames of the fire leapt up, throwing a brilliant light over the den; and there against the wall Beowulf beheld the dead body of Grendel lying on a couch. With one swinging blow of the powerful sword he struck off his head as a trophy to carry to Hrothgar.

 But now a strange thing happened, for the blade of the sword began to melt away even as ice melts, and soon nothing was left of it save the hilt. Carrying this and Grendel’s head, Beowulf now left the den and swam upwards to the surface of the lake.

 There the thanes met him with great rejoicings, and some quickly helped him to undo his armor, while others prepared to carry the great head of Grendel back to Heorot. It took four men to carry it, and ghastly, though wonderful, was the sight of it.

 And now once more the warriors assembled in Heorot, and Beowulf recounted to Hrothgar the full tale of his adventure and presented to him the hilt of the wonderful sword. Again the king thanked him from the depth of his heart for his valiant deeds; and as before a fair feast was prepared and the warriors made merry till night came and they repaired to rest, certain this time of their safety.

 Now on the morrow Beowulf and his nobles made ready to depart to their own land; and when they were fully equipped they went to bid farewell to Hrothgar. Then Beowulf spoke, saying: “Now are we voyagers eager to return to our lord Higelac. We have been right well and heartily entertained, O king, and if there is aught further that I can ever do for thee, then I shall be ready for thy service. If ever I hear that thy neighbors are again persecuting thee, I will bring a thousand thanes to thy aid; and I know that Higelac will uphold me in this.” 

“Dear are thy words to me, O Beowulf,” Hrothgar made answer, “and great is thy wisdom. If Fate should take away the life of Higelac, the Geats could have no better king than thou; and hereafter there shall never more be feuds between the Danes and the Geats, for thou by thy great deeds hast made a lasting bond of friendship between them.” Then Hrothgar gave more gifts to Beowulf and bade him seek his beloved people and afterwards come back again to visit him, for so dearly had he grown to love him that he longed to see him again.

 So the two embraced and bade each other farewell with great affection, and then at last Beowulf went down to where his ship rode at anchor and sailed away with his followers to his own country, taking with him the many gifts that Hrothgar had made to him. And coming to Higelac’s court, he told him of his adventures, and having shown him the treasure, gave it all up to him, so loyal and true was he. But Higelac in return gave Beowulf a goodly sword and seven thousand pieces of gold and a manor-house, also a princely seat for him to dwell in. There Beowulf lived in peace, and not for many years was he called to fresh adventures.

REFERENCE:

TITLE: Stories from Old English Romance

BY: Joyce Pollard

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway

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Creation Story: Chaldean

Elder Spirits of the Primordial Deep

In the beginning the whole universe was a sea. Heaven on high had not been named, nor the earth beneath. Their begetter was Apsu, the father of the primordial Deep, and their mother was Tiamat, the spirit of Chaos. No plain was yet formed, no marsh could be seen; the gods had no existence, nor had their fates been determined. Then there was a movement in the waters, and the deities issued forth. The first who had being were the god Lachmu and the goddess Lachamu. Long ages wentpast. Then were created the god Anshar and the goddess Kishar. When the days of these deities had increased and extended, they were followed by Anu, god of the sky, whose consort was Anatu; and Ea, most wise and all-powerful, who was without an equal. Now Ea, god of the deep, was also Enki, “lord of earth“, and his eternal spouse, Damkina, was Gashan-ki, “lady of earth”. The son of Ea and Damkina was Bel, the lord, who in time created mankind (The elder Bel was Enlil of Nippur and the younger Merodach of Babylon.) Thus were the high gods established in power and in glory.

Apsu and the Tiamat  Dragon

Now Apsu and Tiamat remained amidst confusion in the deeps of chaos. They were troubled because their offspring, the high gods, aspired to control the universe and set it in order. (This is the inference drawn from fragmentary texts) Apsu was still powerful and fierce, and Tiamat snarled and raised tempests, smiting herself. Their purpose was to work evil amidst eternal confusion.

Then Apsu called upon Mummu, his counsellor, the son who shared his desires, and said, “O Mummu, thou who art pleasing unto me, let us go forth together unto Tiamat and speak with her.”

So the two went forth and prostrated themselves before the Chaos Mother to consult with her as to what should be done to prevent the accomplishment of the purpose of the high gods.

Plot to Destroy the Beneficent Gods

Apsu opened his mouth and spake, saying, “O Tiamat, thou gleaming one, the purpose of the gods troubles me. I cannot rest by day nor can I repose by night. I will thwart them and destroy their purpose. I will bring sorrow and mourning so that we may lie down undisturbed by them.”

Tiamat heard these words and snarled. She raised angry and roaringtempests; in her furious grief she uttered a curse, and then spake to Apsu, saying, “What shall we do so that their purpose may be thwarted and we may lie down undisturbed again?”

Mummu, the counsellor, addressing Apsu, made answer, and said,”Although the gods are powerful, thou canst overcome them; although their purpose is strong, thou canst thwart it. Then thou shalt haverest by day and peace by night to lie down.”

The face of Apsu grew bright when he heard these words spoken by Mummu, yet he trembled to think of the purpose of the high gods, to whom he was hostile. With Tiamat he lamented because the gods had changed all things; the plans of the gods filled their hearts with dread; they sorrowed and spake with Mummu, plotting evil.

Ea overcomes Apsu and  Muminu

Then Ea, who knoweth all, drew near; he beheld the evil ones conspiring and muttering together. He uttered a pure incantation and accomplished the downfall of Apsu and Mummu, who were taken captive.

Kingu, who shared the desires of Tiamat, spake unto her words of counsel, saying, “Apsu and Mummu have been overcome and we cannot repose. Thou shalt be their Avenger, O Tempestuous One.”

Tiamat heard the words of this bright and evil god, and made answer,saying, “On my strength thou canst trust. So let war be waged.”

The Vengeful Preparations of the Dragon

Then were the hosts of chaos and the deep gathered together. By day and by night they plotted against the high gods, raging furiously, making ready for battle, fuming and storming and taking no rest.

Mother Chuber, (A title of Tiamat) the creator of all, provided irresistible weapons. She also brought into being eleven kinds of fierce monsters-giant serpents, sharp of tooth with unsparing fangs, whose bodies were filled with poison instead of blood; snarling dragons, clad with terror, and of such lofty stature that whoever saw them was overwhelmed with fear, nor could any escape their attack when they lifted themselves up; vipers and pythons, and the Lachamu, hurricane monsters, raging hounds, scorpion men, tempest furies, fish men, and mountain rams. These she armed with fierce weapons and they had no fear of war.

Then Tiamat, whose commands are unchangeable and mighty, exalted Kingu, who had come to her aid, above all the evil gods; she made him the leader to direct the army in battle, to go in front, to open the attack. Robing Kingu in splendour, she seated him on high and spoke, saying: “I have established thy command over all the gods. Thou shalt rule over them. Be mighty, thou my chosen husband, and let thy name be exalted over all the spirits of heaven and spirits of earth.”

Unto Kingu did Tiamat deliver the tablets of fate; she laid them in his bosom, and said, “Thy commands cannot be changed; thy words shall remain firm.” Thus was Kingu exalted; he was vested with the divine power of Anu to decree the fate of the gods, saying, “Let thy mouth open to thwart the fire god; be mighty in battle nor brook resistance.”

Then had Ea knowledge of Tiamat’s doings, how she had gathered her forces together, and how she had prepared to work evil against the high gods with purpose to avenge Apsu. The wise god was stricken with grief, and he moaned for many days. Thereafter he went and stood before his father, Anshar, and spake, saying, “Our mother, Tiamat, hath turned against us in her wrath. She hath gathered the gods about her, and those thou didst create are with her also.”

Anshar’s Appeal to Merodach

When Anshar heard all that Ea revealed regarding the preparations made by Tiamat, he smote his loins and clenched his teeth, and was ill at ease. In sorrow and anger he spoke and said, “Thou didst go forth aforetime to battle; thou didst bind Mummu and smite Apsu. Now Kingu is exalted, and there is none who can oppose Tiamat.”

Anshar called his son, Anu, before him, and spoke, saying: “O mighty one without fear, whose attack is irresistible, go now before Tiamat and speak so that her anger may subside and her heart be made merciful. But if she will not hearken unto thee, speak thou for me, so that she may be reconciled.”

Anu was obedient to the commands of Anshar. He departed, and descended by the path of Tiamat until he beheld her fuming and snarling, but he feared to approach her, and turned back. Then Ea was sent forth, but he was stricken with terror and turned back also.

Anshar then called upon Merodach, son of Ea, and addressed him, saying, “My son, who softeneth my heart, thou shalt go forth to battle and none shall stand against thee.”

The heart of Merodach was made glad at these words. He stood before Anshar, who kissed him, because that he banished fear. Merodach spake, saying: “O lord of the gods, withdraw not thy words; let me go forth to do as is thy desire. What man hath challenged thee to battle?”

Anshar made answer and said: “No man hath challenged me. It is Tiamat, the woman, who hath resolved to wage war against us. But fear not and make merry, for thou shalt bruise the head of Tiamat. O wise god, thou shalt overcome her with thy pure incantation. Tarry not but hasten forth; she cannot wound thee; thou shalt come back again.” The words of Anshar delighted the heart of Merodach, who spake, saying: “O lord of the gods, O fate of the high gods, if I, the avenger, am to subdue Tiamat and save all, then proclaim my greatness among the gods. Let all the high gods gather together joyfully in Upshukinaku (the Council Hall), so that my words like thine may remain unchanged, and what I do may never be altered. Instead of thee I will decree the fates of the gods.”

Then Anshar called unto his counsellor, Gaga, and addressing him, said: “O thou who dost share my desires, thou who dost understand the purpose of my heart, go unto Lachmu and Lachamu and summon all the high gods to come before me to eat bread and drink wine. Repeat to them all I tell you of Tiamat’s preparations for war, of my commands to Anu and Ea, who turned back, fearing the dragon, of my choice of Merodach to be our avenger, and his desire to be equipped with my power to decree fate, so that he may be made strong to combat against our enemy.”

As Anshar commanded so did Gaga do. He went unto Lachmu and Lachamu and prostrated himself humbly before them. Then he rose and delivered the message of Anshar, their son, adding: “Hasten and speedily decide for Merodach your fate. Permit him to depart to meet your powerful foe.”

When Lachmu and Lachamu heard all that Gaga revealed unto them they uttered lamentations, while the Igigi (heavenly spirits) sorrowed bitterly, and said: “What change hath happened that Tiamat hath become hostile to her own offspring? We cannot understand her deeds.”

All the high gods then arose and went unto Anshar, They filled his council chamber and kissed one another. Then they sat down to eat bread and drink sesame wine. And when they were made drunk and were merry and at their ease, they decreed the fate for Merodach.

Merodach exalted as Ruler of the Universe

In the chamber of Anshar they honored the Avenger. He was exalted as a prince over them all, and they said: “Among the high gods thou art the highest; thy command is the command of Anu. Henceforth thou wilt have power to raise up and to cast down. None of the gods will dispute thy authority. O Merodach, our avenger, we give thee sovereignty over the entire Universe. Thy weapon will ever be irresistible. Smite down the gods who have raised revolt, but spare the lives of those who repose their trust in thee.”

Then the gods laid down a garment before Merodach, saying: “Open thy mouth and speak words of command, so that the garment may be destroyed; speak again and it will be brought back.” Merodach spake with his mouth and the garment vanished; he spake again and the garment was reproduced. All the gods rejoiced, and they prostrated themselves and cried out, “Merodach is King!”

Thereafter they gave him the scepter and the throne and the insignia of royalty, and also an irresistible weapon with which to overcome his enemies, saying: “Now, O Merodach, hasten and slay Tiamat. Let the winds carry her blood to hidden places.”

So was the fate of Merodach decreed by the gods; so was a path of prosperity and peace prepared for him. He made ready for battle; he strung his bow and hung his quiver; he slung a dart over his shoulder, and he grasped a club in his right hand; before him he set lightning, and with flaming fire he filled his body. Anu gave unto him a great net with which to snare his enemies and prevent their escape. Then Merodach created seven winds–the wind of evil, the uncontrollable wind, the sandstorm, and the whirlwind, the fourfold wind, the sevenfold wind, and the wind that has no equal–and they went after him. Next he seized his mighty weapon, the thunderstone, and leapt into his storm chariot, to which were yoked four rushing and destructive steeds of rapid flight, with foam-flecked mouths and teeth full of venom, trained for battle, to overthrow enemies and trample them underfoot. A light burned on the head of Merodach, and he was clad in a robe of terror. He drove forth, and the gods, his fathers, followed after him: the high gods clustered around and followed him, hastening to battle.

Dragon slain and Host taken captive

Merodach drove on, and at length he drew nigh to the secret lair of Tiamat, and he beheld her muttering with Kingu, her consort. For a moment he faltered, and when the gods who followed him beheld this, their eyes were troubled. Tiamat neither snarled nor turned her head. She uttered curses, and said: “O Merodach, I fear not thy advance as chief of the gods. My allies are assembled here, and are more powerful than thou art.” Merodach uplifted his arm, grasping the dreaded thunderstone, and spake unto Tiamat, the rebellious one, saying: “Thou hast exalted thyself, and with wrathful heart hath prepared for war against the high gods and their fathers, whom thou dost hate in thy heart of evil. Unto Kingu thou hast given the power of Anu to decree fate, because thou art hostile to what is good and loveth what is sinful. Gather thy forces together, and arm thyself and come forth to battle.”

When Tiamat heard these mighty words she raved and cried aloud like one who is possessed; all her limbs shook, and she muttered a spell. The gods seized their weapons. Tiamat and Merodach advanced to combat against one another. They made ready for battle. The lord of the high gods spread out the net which Anu had given him. He snared the dragon and she could not escape. Tiamat opened her mouth which was seven miles wide, and Merodach called upon the evil wind to smite her; he caused the wind to keep her mouth agape so that she could not close it. All the tempests and the hurricanes entered in, filling her body, and her heart grew weak; she gasped, overpowered. Then the lord of the high gods seized his dart and cast it through the lower part of her body; it tore her inward parts and severed her heart. So was Tiamat slain.

Merodach overturned the body of the dead dragon and stood upon it. All the evil gods who had followed her were stricken with terror and broke into flight. But they were unable to escape. Merodach caught them in his great net, and they stumbled and fell uttering cries of distress, and the whole world resounded with their wailing and lamentations. The lord of the high gods broke the weapons of the evil gods and put them in bondage. Then he fell upon the monsters which Tiamat had created; he subdued them, divested them of their powers, and trampled them under his feet. Kingu he seized with the others. From this god great Merodach took the tablets of fate, and impressing upon them his own seal, placed them in his bosom.

So were the enemies of the high gods overthrown by the Avenger. Ansar’s commands were fulfilled and the desires of Ea fully accomplished.

Death of the Dragon Tiamat and Formation of the Earth

Merodach strengthened the bonds which he had laid upon the evil gods and then returned to Tiamat. He leapt upon the dragon’s body; he clove her skull with his great club; he opened the channels of her blood which streamed forth, and caused the north to carry her blood to hidden places. The high gods, his fathers, clustered around; they raised shouts of triumph and made merry. Then they brought gifts and offerings to the great Avenger.

Merodach rested a while, gazing upon the dead body of the dragon. He divided the flesh of Ku-pu, and devised a cunning plan. Then the lord of the high gods split the body of the dragon like that of a mashde fish into two halves. With one half he enveloped the firmament; he fixed it there and set a watchman to prevent the waters falling down. With the other half he made the earth. Then he made the abode of Ea in the deep, and the abode of Anu in high heaven. The abode of Enlil was in the air.

Merodach set all the great gods in their several stations. He also created their images, the stars of the Zodiac, and fixed them all. He measured the year and divided it into months; for twelve months he made three stars each. After he had given starry images of the gods separate control of each day of the year, he founded the station of Nibiru (Jupiter), his own star, to determine the limits of all stars, so that none might err or go astray. He placed beside his own the stations of Enlil and Ea, and on each side he opened mighty gates, fixing bolts on the left and on the right. He set the zenith in the center. Merodach decreed that the moon god should rule the night and measure the days, and each month he was given a crown. Its various phases the great lord determined, and he commanded that on the evening of its fullest brilliancy it should stand opposite the sun. He placed his bow in heaven (as a constellation) and his net also.

Creation of Man

We have now reached the sixth tablet, which begins with a reference to words spoken to Merodach by the gods. Apparently Ea had conceived in his heart that mankind should be created. The lord of the gods read his thoughts and said: “I will shed my blood and fashion bone… I will create man to dwell on the earth so that the gods may be worshipped and shrines erected for them. I will change the pathways of the gods….”

The rest of the text is fragmentary, and many lines are missing. Berosus states, however, that Belus (Bel Merodach) severed his head from his shoulders. His blood flowed forth, and the gods mixed it with earth and formed the first man and various animals.

In another version of the creation of man, it is related that Merodach “laid a reed upon the face of the waters; he formed dust, and poured it out beside the reed…. That he might cause the gods to dwell in the habitation of their heart’s desire, he formed mankind.” The goddess Aruru, a deity of Sippar, and one of the forms of “the lady of the gods “, is associated with Merodach as the creatrix of the seed of mankind. “The beasts of the field and living creatures in the field he formed.” He also created the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, grass, reeds, herbs and trees, lands, marshes and swamps, cows, goats, etc.

In the seventh tablet Merodach is praised by the gods-the Igigi (spirits of heaven). As he has absorbed all their attributes, he is addressed by his fifty-one names; henceforth each deity is a form of Merodach. Bel Enlil, for instance, is Merodach of lordship and domination; Sin, the moon god, is Merodach as ruler of night; Shamash is Merodach as god of law and holiness; Nergal is Merodach of war; and so on. The tendency to monotheism appears to have been most marked among the priestly theorists of Babylon.

Merodach is hailed to begin with as Asari, the introducer of agriculture and horticulture, the creator of grain and plants. He also directs the decrees of Anu, Bel, and Ea; but having rescued the gods from destruction at the hands of Kingu and Tiamat, he was greater than his “fathers”, the elder gods. He set the Universe in order, and created all things anew. He is therefore Tutu, “the creator”, a merciful and beneficent god. The following are renderings of lines 25 to 32:

Tutu: Aga-azaga (the glorious crown) may he make the crowns  glorious-

The lord of the glorious incantation bringing the dead to life;

He who had mercy on the gods who had been overpowered;

Made heavy the yoke which he had laid on the gods who were his enemies,

(And) to redeem (?) them created mankind.

“The merciful one”, “he with whom is salvation”,

May his word be established, and not forgotten,

In the mouth of the black-headed ones whom his hands have made.

Tutu as Aga-azag may mankind fourthly magnify!

“The Lord of the Pure Incantation”, “the Quickener of the Dead “,

“Who had mercy upon the captive gods”,

“Who removed the yoke from upon the gods his enemies”.

“For their forgiveness did he create mankind”,

“The Merciful One, with whom it is to bestow life!”

May his deeds endure, may they never be forgotten

In the mouth of mankind whom his hands have made.

Apparently the Babylonian doctrine set forth that mankind was created not only to worship the gods, but also to bring about the redemption of the fallen gods who followed Tiamat. Those rebel angels (ili gods) He prohibited return;   He stopped their service; He removed them unto the gods (ili) who   were His enemies.  In their room he created mankind.

TITLE Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

BY: Donald A Mackenzie

A few words, however, may be added upon the subject of the Chaldaean cosmogony.  Although the only knowledge that we possess on this point is derived from Berosus, and therefore we cannot be sure that we have really the belief of the ancient people, yet, judging from internal evidence of character, we may safely pronounce Berosus’ account not only archaic, but in its groundwork and essence a primeval tradition, more ancient probably than most of the gods whom we have been considering.

“In the beginning,” says this ancient legend, “all was darkness and water, and therein were generated monstrous animals of strange and peculiar forms.  There were men with two wings, and some even with four, and with two faces; and others with two heads, a man’s and a woman’s on one body; and there were men with the heads and horns of goats, and men with hoofs like horses, and some with the upper parts of a man joined to the lower parts of a horse, like centaurs; and there were bulls with human heads, dogs with four bodies and with fishes’ tails, men and horses with dogs’ heads, creatures with the heads and bodies of horses, but with the tails of fish, and other animals mixing the forms of various beasts. Moreover there were monstrous fish and reptiles and serpents, and divers other creatures, which had borrowed something from each other’s shapes; of all which the likenesses are still preserved in the temple of Belus.

A woman ruleth them all, by name Omorka, which is in Chaldee Thalatth, and in Greek Thalassa (or “the sea“).  Then Belus appeared, and split the woman in twain; and of the one half of her he made the heaven, and of the other half the earth; and the beasts that were in her he caused to perish.  And he split the darkness, and divided the heaven and the earth asunder, and put the world in order; and the animals that could not bear the light perished.  Belus, upon this, seeing that the earth was desolate, yet teeming with productive power, commanded one of the gods to cut off his head, and to mix the blood which flowed forth with earth, and form men therewith, and beasts that could bear the light.  So man was made, and was intelligent, being a partaker of the divine wisdom. Likewise Belus made the stars, and the sun and moon, and the five planets.”

It has been generally seen that this cosmogony bears a remarkable resemblance to the history of Creation contained in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.  Some have gone so far as to argue that the Mosaic account was derived from it.

REFERENCE: From: Greatest Monarchs of the Ancient World; BY: George Rawlinson

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

Babylonia: Gods and Rites

The Wise-Woman’s Prophecy: Norse

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

At the beginning of the collection in the Codex Regius stands the Voluspo, the most famous and important, as it is likewise the most debated, of all the Eddic poems. Another version of it is found in a huge miscellaneous compilation of about the year 1300, the Hauksbok, and many stanzas are included in the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson. The order of the stanzas in the Hauksbok version differs materially from that in the Codex Regius, and in the published editions many experiments have been attempted in further rearrangements. On the whole, how ever, and allowing for certain interpolations, the order of the stanzas in the Codex Regius seems more logical than any of the wholesale “improvements” which have been undertaken.

The general plan of the Voluspo is fairly clear. Othin, chief of the gods, always conscious of impending disaster and eager for knowledge, calls on a certain “Volva,” or wise-woman, presumably bidding her rise from the grave. She first tells him of the past, of the creation of the world, the beginning of years, the origin of the dwarfs (at this point there is a clearly interpolated catalogue of dwarfs’ names, stanzas 10-16), of the first man and woman, of the world-ash Yggdrasil, and of the first war, between the gods and the Vanir, or, in Anglicized form, the Wanes. Then, in stanzas 27-29, as a further proof of her wisdom, she discloses some of Othin’s own secrets and the details of his search for knowledge. Rewarded by Othin for what she has thus far told (stanza 30), she then turns to the real prophesy, the disclosure of the final destruction of the gods. This final battle, in which fire and flood overwhelm heaven and earth as the gods fight with their enemies, is the great fact in Norse mythology; the phrase describing it, ragna rök, “the fate of the gods,” has become familiar, by confusion with the word rökkr, “twilight,” in the German Göterdämmerung. The wise-woman tells of the Valkyries who bring the slain warriors to support Othin and the other gods in the battle, of the slaying of Baldr, best and fairest of the gods, through the wiles of Loki, of the enemies of the gods, of the summons to battle on both sides, and of the mighty struggle, till Othin is slain, and “fire leaps highabout heaven itself” (stanzas 31-58). But this is not all. A new and beautiful world is to rise on the ruins of the old; Baldr comes back, and “fields unsowed bear ripened fruit” (stanzas 59-66).

This final passage, in particular, has caused wide differences of opinion as to the date and character of the poem. That the poet was heathen and not Christian seems almost beyond dispute; there is an intensity and vividness in almost every stanza which no archaizing Christian could possibly have achieved. On the other hand, the evidences of Christian influence are sufficiently striking to outweigh the arguments of Finnur Jonsson, Müllenhoff and others who maintain that the Voluspo is purely a product of heathendom. The roving Norsemen of the tenth century, very few of whom had as yet accepted Christianity, were nevertheless in close contact with Celtic races which had already been converted, and in many ways the Celtic influence was strongly felt. It seems likely, then, that the Voluspo was the work of a poet living chiefly in Iceland, though possibly in the “Western Isles,” in the middle of the tenth century, a vigorous believer in the old gods, and yet with an imagination active enough to be touched by the vague tales of a different religion emanating from his neighbor Celts.

How much the poem was altered during the two hundred years between its composition and its first being committed to writing is largely a matter of guesswork, but, allowing for such an obvious interpolation as the catalogue of dwarfs, and for occasional lesser errors, it seems quite needless to assume such great changes as many editors do. The poem was certainly not composed to tell a story with which its early hearers were quite familiar; the lack of continuity which baffles modern readers presumably did not trouble them in the least. It is, in effect, a series of gigantic pictures, put into words with a directness and sureness which bespeak the poet of genius. It is only after the reader, with the help of the many notes, has–familiarized him self with the names and incidents involved that he can begin to understand the effect which this magnificent poem must have produced on those who not only understood but believed it

  1. Hearing I ask | from the holy races, From Heimdall’s sons, | both high and low; Thou wilt, Valfather, | that well I relate Old tales I remember | of men long ago.
  2. I remember yet | the giants of yore, Who gave me bread | in the days gone by; Nine worlds I knew, | the nine in the tree With mighty roots | beneath the mold.

[1. A few editors, following Bugge, in an effort to clarify the poem, place stanzas 22, 28 and 30 before stanzas 1-20, but the arrangement in both manuscripts, followed here, seems logical. In stanza I the Volva, or wise-woman, called upon by Othin, answers him and demands a hearing. Evidently she be longs to the race of the giants (cf. stanza 2), and thus speaks to Othin unwillingly, being compelled to do so by his magic power. Holy: omitted in Regius; the phrase “holy races” probably means little more than mankind in general. Heimdall: the watchman of the gods; cf. stanza 46 and note. Why mankind should be referred to as Heimdall’s sons is uncertain, and the phrase has caused much perplexity. Heimdall seems to have had various at tributes, and in the Rigsthula, wherein a certain Rig appears as the ancestor of the three great classes of men, a fourteenth century annotator identifies Rig with Heimdall, on what authority we do not know, for the Rig of the poem seems much more like Othin (cf. Rigsthula, introductory prose and note). Valfather (“Father of the Slain”): Othin, chief of the gods, so called because the slain warriors were brought to him at Valhall (“Hall of the Slain”) by the Valkyries (“Choosers of the Slain”).

  1. 2. Nine worlds: the worlds of the gods (Asgarth), of the Wanes (Vanaheim, cf. stanza 21 and note), of the elves (Alfheim), of men (Mithgarth), of the giants (Jotunheim), of fire (Muspellsheim, cf. stanza 47 and note), of the dark elves (Svartalfaheim), of the dead (Niflheim), and presumably of the dwarfs (perhaps Nithavellir, cf. stanza 37 and note, but the ninth world is uncertain). The tree: the world-ash Yggdrasil, [fp. 4] symbolizing the universe; cf. Grimnismol, 29-35 and notes, wherein Yggdrasil is described at length.]
  2. Of old was the age | when Ymir lived; Sea nor cool waves | nor sand there were; Earth had not been, | nor heaven above, But a yawning gap, | and grass nowhere.
  3. Then Bur’s sons lifted | the level land, Mithgarth the mighty | there they made; The sun from the south | warmed the stones of earth, And green was the ground | with growing leeks.
  4. The sun, the sister | of the moon, from the south Her right hand cast | over heaven’s rim; No knowledge she had | where her home should be, The moon knew not | what might was his, The stars knew not | where their stations were.

[3. Ymir: the giant out of whose body the gods made the world; cf. Vafthruthnismol, 21. in this stanza as quoted in Snorri’s Edda the first line runs: “Of old was the age ere aught there was.” Yawning gap: this phrase, “Ginnunga-gap,” is sometimes used as a proper name.

  1. Bur’s sons: Othin, Vili, and Ve. Of Bur we know only that his wife was Bestla, daughter of Bolthorn; cf. Hovamol, 141. Vili and Ve are mentioned by name in the Eddic poems only in Lokasenna, 26. Mithgarth (“Middle Dwelling”): the world of men. Leeks: the leek was often used as the symbol of fine growth (cf. Guthrunarkvitha I, 17), and it was also supposed to have magic power (cf. Sigrdrifumol, 7).
  2. Various editors have regarded this stanza as interpolated; Hoffory thinks it describes the northern summer night in which the sun does not set. Lines 3-5 are quoted by Snorri. In the manuscripts line 4 follows line 5. Regarding the sun and moon [fp. 5] as daughter and son of Mundilferi, cf. Vafthruthnismol, 23 and note, and Grimnismol, 37 and note.]
  3. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held; Names then gave they | to noon and twilight, Morning they named, | and the waning moon, Night and evening, | the years to number.
  4. At Ithavoll met | the mighty gods, Shrines and temples | they timbered high; Forges they set, and | they smithied ore, Tongs they wrought, | and tools they fashioned.
  5. In their dwellings at peace | they played at tables, Of gold no lack | did the gods then know,– Till thither came | up giant-maids three, Huge of might, | out of Jotunheim.

[6. Possibly an interpolation, but there seems no strong reason for assuming this. Lines 1-2 are identical with lines 1-2 of stanza 9, and line 2 may have been inserted here from that later stanza.

7. Ithavoll (“Field of Deeds”?): mentioned only here and in stanza 60 as the meeting-place of the gods; it appears in no other connection.

  1. Tables: the exact nature of this game, and whether it more closely resembled chess or checkers, has been made the subject of a 400-page treatise, Willard Fiske’s “Chess in Iceland.” Giant-maids: perhaps the three great Norns, corresponding to the three fates; cf. stanza 20, and note. Possibly, however, something has been lost after this stanza, and the missing passage, replaced by the catalogue of the dwarfs (stanzas 9-16), may have explained the “giant-maids” otherwise than as Norns. In Vafthruthnismol, 49, the Norms (this time “three throngs” in stead of simply “three”) are spoken of as giant-maidens; [fp. 6] Fafnismol, 13, indicates the existence of many lesser Norns, belonging to various races. Jotunheim: the world of the giants.]
  2. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held, To find who should raise | the race of dwarfs Out of Brimir’s blood | and the legs of Blain.
  3. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next; Many a likeness | of men they made, The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.
  4. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri, Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin, Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain, Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori, An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

[9. Here apparently begins the interpolated catalogue of the dwarfs, running through stanza 16; possibly, however, the interpolated section does not begin before stanza 11. Snorri quotes practically the entire section, the names appearing in a some what changed order. Brimir and Blain: nothing is known of these two giants, and it has been suggested that both are names for Ymir (cf. stanza 3). Brimir, however, appears in stanza 37 in connection with the home of the dwarfs. Some editors treat the words as common rather than proper nouns, Brimir meaning “the bloody moisture” and Blain being of uncertain significance.

  1. 10. Very few of the dwarfs named in this and the following stanzas are mentioned elsewhere. It is not clear why Durin should have been singled out as authority for the list. The occasional repetitions suggest that not all the stanzas of the catalogue came from the same source. Most of the names presumably had some definite significance, as Northri, Suthri, Austri, and Vestri (“North,” “South”, “East,” and “West”), [fp. 7] Althjof (“Mighty Thief’), Mjothvitnir (“Mead-Wolf”), Gandalf (“Magic Elf’), Vindalf (“Wind Elf’), Rathwith (“Swift in Counsel”), Eikinskjaldi (“Oak Shield”), etc., but in many cases the interpretations are sheer guesswork.]
  2. Vigg and Gandalf) | Vindalf, Thrain, Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit, Nyr and Nyrath,– | now have I told– Regin and Rathsvith– | the list aright.
  3. Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali, Heptifili, | Hannar, Sviur, Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni, Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.
  4. The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin’s throng Down to Lofar | the list must I tell; The rocks they left, | and through wet lands They sought a home | in the fields of sand.
  5. There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir, Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin, Dori, Ori, | Duf, Andvari, Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.
  1. Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi, Fjalar and Frosti, | Fith and Ginnar; So for all time | shall the tale be known, The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.
  2. Then from the throng | did three come forth, From the home of the gods, | the mighty and gracious; Two without fate | on the land they found, Ask and Embla, | empty of might.
  3. Soul they had not, | sense they had not, Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue; Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir, Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.

 [12. The order of the lines in this and the succeeding four stanzas varies greatly in the manuscripts and editions, and the names likewise appear in many forms. Regin: probably not identical with Regin the son of Hreithmar, who plays an important part in the Reginsmol and Fafnismol, but cf. note on Reginsmol, introductory prose.

  1. 14. Dvalin: in Hovamol, 144, Dvalin seems to have given magic runes to the dwarfs, probably accounting for their skill in craftsmanship, while in Fafnismol, 13, he is mentioned as the father of some of the lesser Norns. The story that some of the dwarfs left the rocks and mountains to find a new home on the sands is mentioned, but unexplained, in Snorri’s Edda; of Lofar we know only that he was descended from these wanderers.]

 [15. Andvari: this dwarf appears prominently in the Reginsmol, which tells how the god Loki treacherously robbed him of his wealth; the curse which he laid on his treasure brought about the deaths of Sigurth, Gunnar, Atli, and many others.

  1. Here the poem resumes its course after the interpolated section. Probably, however, something has been lost, for there is no apparent connection between the three giant-maids of stanza 8 and the three gods, Othin, Hönir and Lothur, who in stanza 17 go forth to create man and woman. The word “three” in stanzas 9 and 17 very likely confused some early reciter, or perhaps the compiler himself. Ask and Embla: ash and elm; Snorri gives them simply as the names of the first man and woman, but says that the gods made this pair out of trees.
  2. 18. Hönir: little is known of this god, save that he occasion ally appears in the poems in company with Othin and Loki, and [fp. 9] that he survives the destruction, assuming in the new age the gift of prophesy (cf. stanza 63). He was given by the gods as a hostage to the Wanes after their war, in exchange for Njorth (cf. stanza 21 and note). Lothur: apparently an older name for Loki, the treacherous but ingenious son of Laufey, whose divinity Snorri regards as somewhat doubtful. He was adopted by Othin, who subsequently had good reason to regret it. Loki probably represents the blending of two originally distinct figures, one of them an old fire-god, hence his gift of heat to the newly created pair.]
  3. An ash I know, | Yggdrasil its name, With water white | is the great tree wet; Thence come the dews | that fall in the dales, Green by Urth’s well | does it ever grow.
  4. Thence come the maidens | mighty in wisdom, Three from the dwelling | down ‘neath the tree; Urth is one named, | Verthandi the next, On the wood they scored, | and Skuld the third. Laws they made there, and life allotted To the sons of men, and set their fates.

[19. Yggdrasil: cf. stanza 2 and note, and Grimnismol, 29-35 and notes. Urth (“The Past”): one of the three great Norns. The world-ash is kept green by being sprinkled with the marvelous healing water from her well.

  1. The maidens: the three Norns; possibly this stanza should follow stanza 8. Dwelling: Regius has “sæ” (sea) instead of “sal” (hall, home), and many editors have followed this reading, although Snorri’s prose paraphrase indicates “sal.” Urth, Verthandi and Skuld: “Past,” “Present” and “Future.” Wood, etc.: the magic signs (runes) controlling the destinies of men were cut on pieces of wood. Lines 3-4 are probably interpolations from some other account of the Norns.]
  2. The war I remember, | the first in the world, When the gods with spears | had smitten Gollveig, And in the hall | of Hor had burned her, Three times burned, | and three times born, Oft and again, | yet ever she lives.
  3. Heith they named her | who sought their home, The wide-seeing witch, | in magic wise; Minds she bewitched | that were moved by her magic, To evil women | a joy she was.

[21. This follows stanza 20 in Regius; in the Hauksbok version stanzas 25, 26, 27, 40, and 41 come between stanzas 20 and 21. Editors have attempted all sorts of rearrangements. The war: the first war was that between the gods and the Wanes. The cult of the Wanes (Vanir) seems to have originated among the seafaring folk of the Baltic and the southern shores of the North Sea, and to have spread thence into Norway in opposition to the worship of the older gods; hence the “war.” Finally the two types of divinities were worshipped in common; hence the treaty which ended the war with the exchange of hostages. Chief among the Wanes were Njorth and his children, Freyr and Freyja, all of whom became conspicuous among the gods. Beyond this we know little of the Wanes, who seem originally to have been water-deities. I remember: the manuscripts have “she remembers,” but the Volva is apparently still speaking of her own memories, as in stanza 2. Gollveig (“Gold-Might”): apparently the first of the Wanes to come among the gods, her ill treatment being the immediate cause of the war. Müllenhoff maintains that Gollveig is another name for Freyja. Lines 5-6, one or both of them probably interpolated, seem to symbolize the refining of gold by fire. Hor (“The High One”): Othin.

  1. Heith (“Shining One”?): a name often applied to wise women and prophetesses. The application of this stanza to Gollveig is far from clear, though the reference may be to the [fp. 11] magic and destructive power of gold. It is also possible that the stanza is an interpolation. Bugge maintains that it applies to the Volva who is reciting the poem, and makes it the opening stanza, following it with stanzas 28 and 30, and then going on with stanzas I ff. The text of line 2 is obscure, and has been variously emended.]
  2. On the host his spear | did Othin hurl, Then in the world | did war first come; The wall that girdled | the gods was broken, And the field by the warlike | Wanes was trodden.
  3. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held, Whether the gods | should tribute give, Or to all alike | should worship belong.
  4. Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats, The holy ones, | and council held, To find who with venom | the air had filled, Or had given Oth’s bride | to the giants’ brood.

[23. This stanza and stanza 24 have been transposed from the order in the manuscripts, for the former describes the battle and the victory of the Wanes, after which the gods took council, debating whether to pay tribute to the victors, or to admit them, as was finally done, to equal rights of worship.

  1. Possibly, as Finn Magnusen long ago suggested, there is something lost after stanza 24, but it was not the custom of the Eddic poets to supply transitions which their hearers could generally be counted on to understand. The story referred to in stanzas 25-26 (both quoted by Snorri) is that of the rebuilding of Asgarth after its destruction by the Wanes. The gods employed a giant as builder, who demanded as his reward the sun and moon, and the goddess Freyja for his wife. The gods, terrified by the rapid progress of the work, forced Loki, who had advised the bargain, to delay the giant by a trick, so that the [fp. 12] work was not finished in the stipulated time (cf. Grimnismol, 44, note). The enraged giant then threatened the gods, whereupon Thor slew him. Oth’s bride: Freyja; of Oth little is known beyond the fact that Snorri refers to him as a man who “went away on long journeys.”]
  2. In swelling rage | then rose up Thor,– Seldom he sits | when he such things hears,– And the oaths were broken, | the words and bonds, The mighty pledges | between them made.
  3. I know of the horn | of Heimdall, hidden Under the high-reaching | holy tree; On it there pours | from Valfather’s pledge A mighty stream: | would you know yet more?

[26. Thor: the thunder-god, son of Othin and Jorth (Earth) cf. particularly Harbarthsljoth and Thrymskvitha, passim. Oaths, etc.: the gods, by violating their oaths to the giant who rebuilt Asgarth, aroused the undying hatred of the giants’ race, and thus the giants were among their enemies in the final battle.

  1. Here the Volva turns from her memories of the past to a statement of some of Othin’s own secrets in his eternal search for knowledge (stanzas 27-29). Bugge puts this stanza after stanza 29. The horn of Heimdall: the Gjallarhorn (“Shrieking Horn”), with which Heimdall, watchman of the gods, will summon them to the last battle. Till that time the horn is buried under Yggdrasil. Valfather’s pledge: Othin’s eye (the sun?), which he gave to the water-spirit Mimir (or Mim) in exchange for the latter’s wisdom. It appears here and in stanza 29 as a drinking-vessel, from which Mimir drinks the magic mead, and from which he pours water on the ash Yggdrasil. Othin’s sacrifice of his eye in order to gain knowledge of his final doom is one of the series of disasters leading up to the destruction of the gods. There were several differing versions of the story of Othin’s relations with Mimir; another one, quite incompatible with this, appears in stanza 47. In the manuscripts I know and I see appear as “she knows” and “she sees” (cf. note on 21).]
  2. Alone I sat | when the Old One sought me, The terror of gods, | and gazed in mine eyes: “What hast thou to ask? | why comest thou hither? Othin, I know | where thine eye is hidden.”
  3. I know where Othin’s | eye is hidden, Deep in the wide-famed | well of Mimir; Mead from the pledge | of Othin each mom Does Mimir drink: | would you know yet more?
  4. Necklaces had I | and rings from Heerfather, Wise was my speech | and my magic wisdom; … Widely I saw | over all the worlds.

[28. The Hauksbok version omits all of stanzas 28-34, stanza 27 being there followed by stanzas 40 and 41. Regius indicates stanzas 28 and 29 as a single stanza. Bugge puts stanza 28 after stanza 22, as the second stanza of his reconstructed poem. The Volva here addresses Othin directly, intimating that, although he has not told her, she knows why he has come to her, and what he has already suffered in his search for knowledge regarding his doom. Her reiterated “would you know yet more?” seems to mean: “I have proved my wisdom by telling of the past and of your own secrets; is it your will that I tell likewise of the fate in store for you?” The Old One: Othin.

  1. The first line, not in either manuscript, is a conjectural emendation based on Snorri’s paraphrase. Bugge puts this stanza after stanza 20.
  2. This is apparently the transitional stanza, in which the Volva, rewarded by Othin for her knowledge of the past (stanzas 1-29), is induced to proceed with her real prophecy (stanzas 31-66). Some editors turn the stanza into the third person, making it a narrative link. Bugge, on the other hand, puts it [fp. 14] after stanza 28 as the third stanza of the poem. No lacuna is indicated in the manuscripts, and editors have attempted various emendations. Heerfather (“Father of the Host”): Othin.]
  3. On all sides saw I | Valkyries assemble, Ready to ride | to the ranks of the gods; Skuld bore the shield, | and Skogul rode next, Guth, Hild, Gondul, | and Geirskogul. Of Herjan’s maidens | the list have ye heard, Valkyries ready | to ride o’er the earth. I saw for Baldr, | the bleeding god, The son of Othin, | his destiny set:

[31. Valkyries: these “Choosers of the Slain” (cf. stanza I, note) bring the bravest warriors killed in battle to Valhall, in order to re-enforce the gods for their final struggle. They are also called “Wish-Maidens,” as the fulfillers of Othin’s wishes. The conception of the supernatural warrior-maiden was presumably brought to Scandinavia in very early times from the South-Germanic races, and later it was interwoven with the likewise South-Germanic tradition of the swan-maiden. A third complication developed when the originally quite human women of the hero-legends were endowed with the qualities of both Valkyries and swan-maidens, as in the cases of Brynhild (cf. Gripisspo, introductory note), Svava (cf. Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar, prose after stanza 5 and note) and Sigrun (cf. Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I, 17 and note). The list of names here given may be an interpolation; a quite different list is given in Grimnismol, 36. Ranks of the gods: some editors regard the word thus translated as a specific place name. Herjan (“Leader of Hosts”): Othin. It is worth noting that the name Hild (“Warrior”) is the basis of Bryn-hild (“Warrior in Mail Coat”).

  1. 32. Baldr: The death of Baldr, the son of Othin and Frigg, was the first of the great disasters to the gods. The story is fully told by Snorri. Frigg had demanded of all created things, saving only the mistletoe, which she thought too weak to be worth troubling [fp. 15] about, an oath that they would not harm Baldr. Thus it came to he a sport for the gods to hurl weapons at Baldr, who, of course, was totally unharmed thereby. Loki, the trouble-maker, brought the mistletoe to Baldr’s blind brother, Hoth, and guided his hand in hurling the twig. Baldr was slain, and grief came upon all the gods. Cf. Baldrs Draumar.]
  2. From the branch which seemed | so slender and fair Came a harmful shaft | that Hoth should hurl; But the brother of Baldr | was born ere long, And one night old | fought Othin’s son. 34. His hands he washed not, | his hair he combed not, Till he bore to the bale-blaze | Baldr’s foe. But in Fensalir | did Frigg weep sore For Valhall’s need: | would you know yet more?
  3. One did I see | in the wet woods bound, A lover of ill, | and to Loki like; Famous and fair | in the lofty fields, Full grown in strength | the mistletoe stood. By his side does Sigyn | sit, nor is glad To see her mate: | would you know yet more?
  1. From the east there pours | through poisoned vales With swords and daggers | the river Slith. 37. Northward a hall | in Nithavellir Of gold there rose | for Sindri’s race; And in Okolnir | another stood, Where the giant Brimir | his beer-hall had.

[33. The lines in this and the following stanza have been combined in various ways by editors, lacunae having been freely conjectured, but the manuscript version seems clear enough. The brother of Baldr: Vali, whom Othin begot expressly to avenge Baldr’s death. The day after his birth he fought and slew Hoth.

  1. Frigg: Othin’s wife. Some scholars have regarded her as a solar myth, calling her the sun-goddess, and pointing out that her home in Fensalir (“the sea-halls”) symbolizes the daily setting of the sun beneath the ocean horizon.
  2. The translation here follows the Regius version. The Hauksbok has the same final two lines, but in place of the first [fp. 16] pair has, “I know that Vali | his brother gnawed, / With his bowels then | was Loki bound.” Many editors have followed this version of the whole stanza or have included these two lines, often marking them as doubtful, with the four from Regius. After the murder of Baldr, the gods took Loki and bound him to a rock with the bowels of his son Narfi, who had just been torn to pieces by Loki’s other son, Vali. A serpent was fastened above Loki’s head, and the venom fell upon his face. Loki’s wife, Sigyn, sat by him with a basin to catch the venom, but whenever the basin was full, and she went away to empty it, then the venom fell on Loki again, till the earth shook with his struggles. “And there he lies bound till the end.” Cf. Lokasenna, concluding prose.]

[36. Stanzas 36-39 describe the homes of the enemies of the gods: the giants (36), the dwarfs (37), and the dead in the land of the goddess Hel (38-39). The Hauksbok version omits stanzas 36 and 37. Regius unites 36 with 37, but most editors have assumed a lacuna. Slith (“the Fearful”): a river in the giants’ home. The “swords and daggers” may represent the icy cold.

  1. 37. Nithavellir (“the Dark Fields”): a home of the dwarfs. Perhaps the word should be “Nithafjoll” (“the Dark Crags”). Sindri: the great worker in gold among the dwarfs. Okolnir [fp. 17] (“the Not Cold”): possibly a volcano. Brimir: the giant (possibly Ymir) out of whose blood, according to stanza 9, the dwarfs were made; the name here appears to mean simply the leader of the dwarfs.]
  2. A hall I saw, | far from the sun, On Nastrond it stands, | and the doors face north, Venom drops | through the smoke-vent down, For around the walls | do serpents wind.
  3. I saw there wading | through rivers wild Treacherous men | and murderers too, And workers of ill | with the wives of men; There Nithhogg sucked | the blood of the slain, And the wolf tore men; | would you know yet more?

[38. Stanzas 38 and 39 follow stanza 43 in the Hauksbok version. Snorri quotes stanzas 39, 39, 40 and 41, though not consecutively. Nastrond (“Corpse-Strand”): the land of the dead, ruled by the goddess Hel. Here the wicked undergo tortures. Smoke vent: the phrase gives a picture of the Icelandic house, with its opening in the roof serving instead of a chimney.

  1. The stanza is almost certainly in corrupt form. The third line is presumably an interpolation, and is lacking in most of the late, paper manuscripts. Some editors, however, have called lines 1-3 the remains of a full. stanza, with the fourth line lacking, and lines 4-5 the remains of another. The stanza depicts the torments of the two worst classes of criminals known to Old Norse morality–oath-breakers and murderers. Nithhogg (“the Dread Biter”): the dragon that lies beneath the ash Yggdrasil and gnaws at its roots, thus symbolizing the destructive elements in the universe; cf. Grimnismol, 32, 35. The wolf: presumably the wolf Fenrir, one of the children of Loki and the giantess Angrbotha (the others being Mithgarthsorm and the goddess Hel), who was chained by the gods with the marvelous chain Gleipnir, fashioned by a dwarf “out of six things: the [fp. 18] noise of a cat’s step, the beards of women, the roots of mountains, the nerves of bears, the breath of fishes, and the spittle of birds.” The chaining of Fenrir cost the god Tyr his right hand; cf. stanza 44.]
  2. The giantess old | in Ironwood sat, In the east, and bore | the brood of Fenrir; Among these one | in monster’s guise Was soon to steal | the sun from the sky.
  3. There feeds he full | on the flesh of the dead, And the home of the gods | he reddens with gore; Dark grows the sun, | and in summer soon Come mighty storms: | would you know yet more?
  4. On a hill there sat, | and smote on his harp, Eggther the joyous, | the giants’ warder; Above him the cock | in the bird-wood crowed, Fair and red | did Fjalar stand.

[40. The Hauksbok version inserts after stanza 39 the refrain stanza (44), and puts stanzas 40 and 41 between 27 and 21. With this stanza begins the account of the final struggle itself. The giantess: her name is nowhere stated, and the only other reference to Ironwood is in Grimnismol, 39, in this same connection. The children of this giantess and the wolf Fenrir are the wolves Skoll and Hati, the first of whom steals the sun, the second the moon. Some scholars naturally see here an eclipse myth.

  1. In the third line many editors omit the comma after “sun,” and put one after “soon,” making the two lines run: “Dark grows the sun | in summer soon, / Mighty storms–” etc. Either phenomenon in summer would be sufficiently striking.
  2. In the Hauksbok version stanzas 42 and 43 stand between stanzas 44 and 38. Eggther: this giant, who seems to be the watchman of the giants, as Heimdall is that of the gods and Surt of the dwellers in the fire-world, is not mentioned elsewhere in [fp. 19] the poems. Fjalar, the cock whose crowing wakes the giants for the final struggle.]
  3. Then to the gods | crowed Gollinkambi, He wakes the heroes | in Othin’s hall; And beneath the earth | does another crow, The rust-red bird | at the bars of Hel.
  4. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir, The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free; Much do I know, | and more can see Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.
  5. Brothers shall fight | and fell each other, And sisters’ sons | shall kinship stain;

[43. Gollinkambi (“Gold-Comb”): the cock who wakes the gods and heroes, as Fjalar does the giants. The rust-red bird: the name of this bird, who wakes the people of Hel’s domain, is nowhere stated.

  1. This is a refrain-stanza. In Regius it appears in full only at this point, but is repeated in abbreviated form before stanzas 50 and 59. In the Hauksbok version the full stanza comes first between stanzas 35 and 42, then, in abbreviated form, it occurs four times: before stanzas 45, 50, 55, and 59. In the Hauksbok line 3 runs: “Farther I see and more can say.” Garm: the dog who guards the gates of Hel’s kingdom; cf. Baldrs Draumar, 2 ff., and Grimnismol, 44. Gniparhellir (“the Cliff-Cave”): the entrance to the world of the dead. The wolf: Fenrir; cf. stanza 39 and note.
  2. From this point on through stanza 57 the poem is quoted by Snorri, stanza 49 alone being omitted. There has been much discussion as to the status of stanza 45. Lines 4 and 5 look like an interpolation. After line 5 the Hauksbok has a line running: “The world resounds, the witch is flying.” Editors have arranged these seven lines in various ways, with lacunae freely indicated. Sisters’ sons: in all Germanic countries the relations between uncle and nephew were felt to be particularly close.]
  3. Fast move the sons | of Mim, and fate Is heard in the note | of the Gjallarhorn; Loud blows Heimdall, | the horn is aloft, In fear quake all | who on Hel-roads are.
  4. Yggdrasil shakes, | and shiver on high The ancient limbs, | and the giant is loose; To the head of Mim | does Othin give heed, But the kinsman of Surt | shall slay him soon. Hard is it on earth, | with mighty whoredom; Axe-time, sword-time, | shields are sundered, Wind-time, wolf-time, | ere the world falls; Nor ever shall men | each other spare.

[46. Regius combines the first three lines of this stanza with lines 3, 2, and I of stanza 47 as a single stanza. Line 4, not found in Regius, is introduced from the Hauksbok version, where it follows line 2 of stanza 47. The sons of Mim: the spirits of the water. On Mini (or Mimir) cf. stanza 27 and note. Gjallarhorn: the “Shrieking Horn” with which Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, calls them to the last battle.

  1. 47. In Regius lines 3, 2, and I, in that order, follow stanza 46 without separation. Line 4 is not found in Regius, but is introduced from the Hauksbok Yggdrasil: cf. stanza 19 and note, and Grimnismol, 29-35. The giant: Fenrir. The head of Mim: various myths were current about Mimir. This stanza refers to the story that he was sent by the gods with Hönir as a hostage to the Wanes after their war (cf. stanza 21 and note), and that the Wanes cut off his head and returned it to the gods. Othin embalmed the head, and by magic gave it the power of speech, thus making Mimir’s noted wisdom always available. of course this story does not fit with that underlying the references to Mimir in stanzas 27 and 29. The kinsman of Surt: the wolf [fp. 21] Fenrir, who slays Othin in the final struggle; cf. stanza 53. Surt is the giant who rules the fire-world, Muspellsheim; cf. stanza 52.]
  2. How fare the gods? | how fare the elves? All Jotunheim groans, | the gods are at council; Loud roar the dwarfs | by the doors of stone, The masters of the rocks: | would you know yet more?
  3. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir, The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free Much do I know, | and more can see Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.
  4. From the east comes Hrym | with shield held high; In giant-wrath | does the serpent writhe; O’er the waves he twists, | and the tawny eagle Gnaws corpses screaming; | Naglfar is loose.

[48. This stanza in Regius follows stanza 51; in the Hauksbok it stands, as here, after 47. Jotunheim: the land of the giants.

  1. Identical with stanza 44. In the manuscripts it is here abbreviated.
  2. Hrym: the leader of the giants, who comes as the helmsman of the ship Naglfar (line 4). The serpent: Mithgarthsorm, one of the children of Loki and Angrbotha (cf. stanza 39, note). The serpent was cast into the sea, where he completely encircles the land; cf. especially Hymiskvitha, passim. The eagle: the giant Hræsvelg, who sits at the edge of heaven in the form of an eagle, and makes the winds with his wings; cf. Vafthruthnismol, 37, and Skirnismol, 27. Naglfar: the ship which was made out of dead men’s nails to carry the giants to battle.]
  3. O’er the sea from the north | there sails a ship With the people of Hel, | at the helm stands Loki; After the wolf | do wild men follow, And with them the brother | of Byleist goes.
  4. Surt fares from the south | with the scourge of branches, The sun of the battle-gods | shone from his sword; The crags are sundered, | the giant-women sink, The dead throng Hel-way, | and heaven is cloven.
  5. Now comes to Hlin | yet another hurt, When Othin fares | to fight with the wolf, And Beli’s fair slayer | seeks out Surt, For there must fall | the joy of Frigg.

[51. North: a guess; the manuscripts have “east,” but there seems to be a confusion with stanza 50, line 1. People of Hel: the manuscripts have “people of Muspell,” but these came over the bridge Bifrost (the rainbow), which broke beneath them, whereas the people of Hel came in a ship steered by Loki. The wolf: Fenrir. The brother of Byleist: Loki. Of Byleist (or Byleipt) no more is known.

  1. Surt: the ruler of the fire-world. The scourge of branches: fire. This is one of the relatively rare instances in the Eddic poems of the type of poetic diction which characterizes the skaldic verse.
  2. Hlin: apparently another name for Frigg, Othin’s wife. After losing her son Baldr, she is fated now to see Othin slain by the wolf Fenrir. Beli’s slayer: the god Freyr, who killed the giant Beli with his fist; cf. Skirnismol, 16 and note. On Freyr, who belonged to the race of the Wanes, and was the brother of Freyja, see especially Skirnismol, passim. The Joy of Frigg: Othin.]
  3. Then comes Sigfather’s | mighty son, Vithar, to fight | with the foaming wolf; In the giant’s son | does he thrust his sword Full to the heart: | his father is avenged.
  4. Hither there comes | the son of Hlothyn, The bright snake gapes | to heaven above; Against the serpent | goes Othin’s son.
  5. In anger smites | the warder of earth,– Forth from their homes | must all men flee;- Nine paces fares | the son of Fjorgyn, And, slain by the serpent, | fearless he sinks.

[54. As quoted by Snorri the first line of this stanza runs: “Fares Othin’s son | to fight with the wolf.” Sigfather (“Father of Victory”): Othin. His son, Vithar, is the silent god, famed chiefly for his great shield, and his strength, which is little less than Thor’s. He survives the destruction. The giant’s son: Fenrir.

  1. 55. This and the following stanza are clearly in bad shape. In Regius only lines I and 4 are found, combined with stanza 56 as a single stanza. Line I does not appear in the Hauksbok version, the stanza there beginning with line 2. Snorri, in quoting these two stanzas, omits 55, 2-4, and 56, 3, making a single stanza out of 55, I, and 56, 4, 2, I, in that order. Moreover, the Hauksbok manuscript at this point is practically illegible. The lacuna (line 3) is, of course, purely conjectural, and all sorts of arrangements of the lines have been attempted by editors, Hlothyn: another name for Jorth (“Earth”), Thor’s mother; his father was Othin. The snake: Mithgarthsorm; cf. stanza 5c and note. Othin’s son: Thor. The fourth line in Regius reads “against the wolf,” but if this line refers to Thor at all, and not to Vithar, the Hauksbok reading, “serpent,” is correct.
  2. The warder of earth: Thor. The son of Fjorgyn: again [fp. 24] Thor, who, after slaying the serpent, is overcome by his venomous breath, and dies. Fjorgyn appears in both a masculine and a feminine form. in the masculine 1t is a name for Othin; in the feminine, as here and in Harbarthsljoth, 56, it apparently refers to Jorth.]
  3. The sun turns black, | earth sinks in the sea, The hot stars down | from heaven are whirled; Fierce grows the steam | and the life-feeding flame, Till fire leaps high | about heaven itself.
  4. Now Garm howls loud | before Gnipahellir, The fetters will burst, | and the wolf run free; Much do I know, | and more can see Of the fate of the gods, | the mighty in fight.
  5. Now do I see | the earth anew Rise all green | from the waves again; The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies, And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.
  6. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together, Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk, And the mighty past | they call to mind, And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods

[57. With this stanza ends the account of the destruction.

  1. 58. Again the refrain-stanza (cf. stanza 44 and note), abbreviated in both manuscripts, as in the case of stanza 49. It is probably misplaced here.
  2. Here begins the description of the new world which is to rise out of the wreck of the old one. It is on this passage that a few critics have sought to base their argument that the poem is later than the introduction of Christianity (circa 1000), but this theory has never seemed convincing (cf. introductory note).
  3. The third line of this stanza is not found in Regius. Ithavoll: cf. stanza 7 and note. The girdler of earth: Mithgarthsorm: [fp. 25], who, lying in the sea, surrounded the land. The Ruler of Gods: Othin. The runes were both magic signs, generally carved on wood, and sung or spoken charms.]
  4. In wondrous beauty | once again Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass, Which the gods had owned | in the days of old, 62. Then fields unsowed | bear ripened fruit, All ills grow better, | and Baldr comes back; Baldr and Hoth dwell | in Hropt’s battle-hall, And the mighty gods: | would you know yet more?
  5. Then Hönir wins | the prophetic wand, And the sons of the brothers | of Tveggi abide In Vindheim now: | would you know yet more?

[61. The Hauksbok version of the first two lines runs:

“The gods shall find there, | wondrous fair, The golden tables | amid the grass.”

No lacuna (line 4) is indicated in the manuscripts. Golden tables: cf. stanza 8 and note.

  1. Baldr: cf. stanza 32 and note. Baldr and his brother, Hoth, who unwittingly slew him at Loki’s instigation, return together, their union being a symbol of the new age of peace. Hropt: another name for Othin. His “battle-hall” is Valhall.
  2. No lacuna (line 2) indicated in the manuscripts. Hönir: cf. stanza 18 and note. In this new age he has the gift of foretelling the future. Tveggi (“The Twofold”): another name for [fp. 26] Othin. His brothers are Vili and Ve (cf. Lokasenna, 26, and note). Little is known of them, and nothing, beyond this reference, of their sons. Vindheim (“Home of the Wind”): heaven.]
  3. More fair than the sun, | a hall I see, Roofed with gold, | on Gimle it stands; There shall the righteous | rulers dwell, And happiness ever | there shall they have.
  4. There comes on high, | all power to hold, A mighty lord, | all lands he rules. 66. From below the dragon | dark comes forth, Nithhogg flying | from Nithafjoll; The bodies of men on | his wings he bears, The serpent bright: | but now must I sink.

[64. This stanza is quoted by Snorri. Gimle: Snorri makes this the name of the hall itself, while here it appears to refer to a mountain on which the hall stands. It is the home of the happy, as opposed to another hall, not here mentioned, for the dead. Snorri’s description of this second hall is based on Voluspo, 38, which he quotes, and perhaps that stanza properly belongs after 65

65. This stanza is not found in Regius, and is probably spurious. No lacuna is indicated in the Hauksbok version, but late paper manuscripts add two lines, running: “Rule he orders, |and rights he fixes, Laws he ordains | that ever shall live.”

The name of this new ruler is nowhere given, and of course the suggestion of Christianity is unavoidable. It is not certain, how ever, that even this stanza refers to Christianity, and if it does, it may have been interpolated long after the rest of the poem was composed.

  1. This stanza, which fits so badly with the preceding ones, [fp. 27] may well have been interpolated. It has been suggested that the dragon, making a last attempt to rise, is destroyed, this event marking the end of evil in the world. But in both manuscripts the final half-line does not refer to the dragon, but, as the gender shows, to the Volva herself, who sinks into the earth; a sort of conclusion to the entire prophecy. Presumably the stanza (barring the last half-line, which was probably intended as the conclusion of the poem) belongs somewhere in the description of the great struggle. Nithhogg: the dragon at the roots of Yggdrasil; cf. stanza 39 and note. Nithafjoll (“the Dark Crags”); nowhere else mentioned. Must I: the manuscripts have “must she.”]

REFERENCE:

TITLE: The Poetic Edda [1936]

BY: Henry Adams Bellows

CONTRIBUTOR: Jenny Dunnaway