The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide
  Grímnismál
 The Speech of the Masked One
 
[PREVIOUS][MAIN][NEXT
[HOME]
 
2
Codex Regius
MS No. 2365 4to  [R]
Arnamagnæan Codex
AM 748 I 4to [A]
1954 Guðni Jónsson
Normalized
Átta nætr sat ek
milli elda hér,
svá at mér manngi
mat né bárð,
nema einn Agnarr,
ær æinn skal ráða,
geiróþar sonr,
gotua lanðe.
Átta nætr sat ek
millvm elda hér,
svá at mér manngi
mat né bauð,
nema einn Agnar er,
er ein
skal ráða,
Gæiröðar son,
gotna landi.
2. Átta nætr sat ek
milli elda hér,
svá at mér manngi
mat né bauð,
nema einn Agnarr,
er einn skal ráða,
Geirröðar sonr,
gotna landi.  
English Translations
1797 Amos Simon Cottle
in Icelandic Poetry
The Song of Grimnir
1851 C.P. in
The Yale Magazine, Vol. 16
The Song of Grimner
By the pale fires sullen light,
I've watch'd eight times the round of night.
Mortals on me disdain to think,
Nor offer food, nor offer drink
Agnarr except who kind of soul,
Gave one cool refreshing bowl:
Thou gentle Youth! so fates have told,
The sceptre of the Goths shalt hold.
Eight weary nights I've borne this torturing heat
Uncomforted; no man hath offered food
Save youthful Agnarr, Geirrod's only son,
Who only o'er the fearless Goths shall rule.
1866 Benjamin Thorpe
in Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða

The Lay of Grimnir
1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson
in Corpus Poeticum Boreale

The Sayings of the Hooded One
2. Eight nights have I sat
between fires here,
and to me no one
food has offered,
save only Agnar,
the son of Geirröd,
who alone shall rule
over the land of the Goths.
Vigfusson omits the verse from the translation of the poem, but in the notes remarks: R here adds—
 
"I sat here eight nights between the fires, while nobody offered me morsel, save Agnar alone, who alone of Geirrod’s sons shall rule the land of the Goths.”
1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
The Sayings of Grimnir
1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir
2. Eight nights have I sat betwixt the fires,
while no man offered me food,
save only Agnar, the son of Geirrod,
who alone shall rule the realm.
 
Note: “Rule the realm or land of the Goths, a name used in a general sense for warriors or a nation.”
2. ‘Twixt the fires now eight nights have I sat,
And no man brought meat to me,
Save Agnar alone, and alone shall rule
Geirröth’s son o’er the Goths.


1962 Lee M. Hollander
in The Poetic Edda
 
The Lay of Grimnir
1967 W. H. Auden & P. B. Taylor
in The Elder Edda
The Lay of Grimnir
2. Eight nights famished 'twixt the fires I sate,
nor did anyone fetch me food,
but Agnar only    who after shall rule,   Geirroeth's son, o'er the Goths.

Note: Goths. Here, as frequently, used in a general and honorific sense for 'warriors.'
2. For eight nights I have not moved,
None offered me meat or mead
Except Agnar: the Son of Geirrod
Shall be lord of the land of the Goths.
1969/1989 Patricia Terry
in
Poems of the Elder Edda 
“The Lay of Grimnir”
1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnir’s Sayings
2. Eight nights I sat bound between these fires
denied all food and drink
till Agnar came— and he alone,
Geirrod’s son, shall rule the Goths

 

2. Eight nights I have sat here between the fires,
And no one offered me food,
Except Agnar alone, and he alone shall rule,
The son of Geirrod, over the land of the Goths
2011 Ursula Dronke
in The Poetic Edda, Vol. III 
“The Lay of Grimnir

2011 Andy Orchard
The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore
'The Lay of Grimnir"

2. Eight nights
I sat between fires
yet nobody offered me food-
except Agnar alone,
who alone shall rule-
Geirrøðr's son- the land of the Goths.
2. ‘Eight nights I’ve sat between these fires,
and no one’s offered me food,
except Agnar alone, and alone he shall rule,
Geirröd’s son, in the land of the Goths.
[HOME][GRÍMNISMÁL]
COMMENTARY
Here we are introduced to Geirröd and Agnar for the first time in the poem. Here Agnar is Geirröd's son. At the end of the poem, we learn that Agnar will succeed his father on the throne. The phrase describing his kingdom as the land of the Goths lets us know that this Geirröd is a human ruler. And yet, Geirröd is the name of one of the most famous giants in all of the mythology— a formidible opponent of Thor. The story of Geirröd and his daughters battle with Thor is one of the best preserved stories in all of the mythology. It is the subject of the skaldic poem Þórsdrápa. Snorri retlls it in the Prose Edda, and Saxo Grammaticus makes passing mention of it in the 8th book of his Danish History. A distorted version of the same tale is recognized in the late Fornaldarsaga Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns or Thorstein Mansion-Might. There Geirröd, as in other Fornaldarsögur, is a giant ruler and the brother of King Gudmund of Glaesirvellir.  

The name Geirröd means "spear-red", "he who reddens the spear" and is thus a fitting name for a warrior-king as well as a murderous jötun.

The prose introduction speaks of two Agnars. The first is the older son of King Hraudung. When the story begins, Agnar is 10 winters old, and his brother Geirröd is 8. The row out in a small boat to fish, but due to a strong wind, the brothers are soon lost at sea. They run aground on a small island, where they stay for a winter, in the care of an old couple. The old woman nurtures Agnar, and the old man fosters Geirröd. In the spring, the old man gets them a ship and sends them back home. Before departing, the old man counsels Geirröd in private. As they reach their home shore, Geirrod who is forward in the boat, leaps ashore, leaving his brother behind. He then pushs the ship back out to sea, cursing his brother, and returns home alone. There he is greeted joyfully. His father has died, and Geirröd is made king of the land.

We soon learn that the old couple is none other than Odin and his wive Frigg, who now look down from their high seat Hlidskalf. From there, they see Agnar living in a cave, raising children with a giantess. Odin mocks him, boasting of the success of his former ward. Frigg says that King Geirröd is stingy with food, a slanderous charge in Old Norse society which held hospitality as a sacred virtue. Odin objects, and they wager on the matter. When Odin decides to pay Geirröd a visit, Frigg sends her handmaiden Fulla ahead to warn the king to beware of any man whom his dogs would not attack. When Odin arrived, wearing a blue cloak and calling himself Grimnir ('the masked one'), Geirrod had him arrested. As Grimnir remained silent and refused to answer any questions, Geirröd had him tortured to make him speak, and set him between two fires, where he sat for eight nights.

Geirröd had a son named Agnar, who was named for the king's brother, and also 10 years old. Agnar went to Grimnir and gave him a full horn to drink, saying that his father was acting wrongly to have an innocent man tortured.  Here the poem begins.

The allusions to the giant realm are no doubt intentional. The giants are the mortal enemies of the gods, representing the merciless forces of destruction. Geirröd's selfishness, inhospitality and lack of pity make him the kin of giants. Agnar's act of mercy makes him worthy of Odin's blessing and qualifies him to be king.

The emphasis on the number 8 may also be part of this theme, (See below).
 
Nine is the Center of Eight
The German chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg speaks of the Danish city of Lejre as 'the center of the kingdom', a position confirmed by early maps of Denmark. In 1015, he wrote a brief description of the temple at Lejre based on information obtained in 934, when the German Emperor Henry I had invaded Denmark. He writes: 
“I have heard strange stories about their sacrificial victims in ancient times, and I will not allow the practice to go unmentioned. In one place called Lederun (Lejre), the capital of the realm in the district of Selon (Sjælland, Zealand), all the people gathered every nine years in January, that is after we have celebrated the birth of the Lord, and there they offered to the gods 99 men and just as many horses, along with dogs and hawks.”

Less than a century later, Adam of Bremen, the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, penned a similar account of the great heathen temple at Uppsala in Sweden. In the fourth book of his history, Descriptio Insularum Aquilonis, he gives a vivid description of the cult center located there. In chapter 26, he writes:
“That folk has a very famous temple called Uppsala, situated not far from the city of Sigtuna and Björkö. In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the dining-hall; Wotan and Frikko have places on either side.”

 Marginal notes state that this festival took place around the time of the vernal equinox (aequinoctium vernale). Each day they offered a man along with other living creatures, so that in the course of nine days seventy-two beings had been offered. Adam describes the scene:
  
“The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with men. A Christian told me that he had seen 72 bodies suspended promiscuously.”
 
Although eight or nine types of beings are mentioned, only humans, dogs and horses are specified. Thietmar says that 99 beings in all were slain, while Adam counts 72. Both numbers have symbolic significance in the Old Norse religion. The first is the product of eleven times nine; the second is the product of eight times nine. The number eleven appears again in a mythological context. In Hyndluljóð 29, there are said to be eleven Aesir left when Balder dies. In Skírnismál 19 & 20, Freyr’s Skirnir messenger offers the giantess Gerd eleven golden apples. The cardinal numbers eight and nine, however, are much more prevalent.

Eight seems to be particularly associated with the giants. Odin’s horse Sleipnir, borne by Loki (a giant) after mating with the giant’s horse Svadilfari has 8 legs. According to Eirikr Magússon, Sleipnir’s legs probably represent the 8 winds, thought to blow from the four cardinal compass points and the four points in between (see stanza 44).  In Þrymskviða, when the giant Thrym steals Thor’s hammer, he hides it 8 rasts below the earth (st. 8). When Thor goes to retrieve it, dressed as Freyja, he eats one whole ox and eight salmon (st. 24). When Thrym suspects something is amiss with his intended ‘bride’, Loki lies saying the false Freyja has not eaten or slept for 8 nights, so eager she was to see him (st. 26, 28).  In Hymiskviða 13, when Thor takes the cauldron, eight others fall off the beam and break. In Lokasenna 23, Odin accuses Loki of living below the earth for 8 winters as a milkmaid, bearing children. In Grímnismál 2, Odin sits bound between two fires for 8 nights, held there by King Geirröd, elsewhere the name of a famous giant.

Sometimes, eight and nine are mentioned together. In Skírnismál 21 and Gylfaginning, eight rings of equal weight drop from the ring Draupnir every ninth night. In Völundarkviða 3, the swan-maidens began to feel anguish in the eighth winter, and leave their lovers in the ninth.

The number nine is by far the most frequent. In Rigsþula 6, 20 and 33, Heimdall spends three nights each with three representatives from each caste. Nine months later a son is born to each household. Three times three is nine. The nine months of human gestation may be the ultimate meaning here. In Hávamál 138, Odin hangs on the “windy tree” nine nights, possibly indicating a rebirth, before taking up 9 mighty spells in Hávamál 140. Similarly, in Gróugaldur 11, Svipdag’s mother rises from the grave to sing 9 protecting charms over her son.

The number nine also has clear connections to the realm of the dead. In the story of Ibn Fadhlan’s encounter with the Rus along the Volga river in the 10th century, the chieftain’s corpse is laid out for 10 days before burial. As the Germanic people reckoned time in nights, rather than days, the dead man was buried for 9 nights before being exhumed and burnt. In Solarljód 51, dead men sit for nine days on the Norn’s seats.

Certainly the number nine has cosmological significance. In Völuspá 2, the völva remembers nine worlds beneath the tree.  The Nafnaþular accompanying Snorri’s Edda names nine heavens. In Váfþrúðnismál, the old giant speaks of nine worlds below Niflhel, which he had personally visited. When Hermod rides to Hel in search of Baldur, it takes him nine nights. Similarly, in Greek mythology, an anvil falling from heaven takes nine days to strike the earth.

More examples can be brought to light. In Völuspá 2, besides nine worlds, the völva remembers nine giantesses, called íviðiur, beneath the tree. In Helgakviða Hundingsbana 16, there is a cryptic reference to a being nine rasts underground with fir-trees growing on her breast. In Völuspá 56, Thor fights the Midgard serpent, who emerges from the waves. Poisoned by its venom, Thor takes 9 steps backward and dies. In the lost poem Heimdallsgaldr, quoted by Snorri,  9 sisters give birth to Heimdall. Their names are given in Hyndluljóð 35. The number of Aegir’s daughters, according to Snorri is also nine. In Skírnismál 39 and 41 Frey waits nine nights to meet Gerd for the first time. In an Eddic verse quoted by Snorri in Gylfaginning, Njörd and Skadi spend 9 nights together in the mountains, and according to the manuscript, three nights by the sea. Nor is that all. In the Prose Edda, when Odin goes to work for the giant Suttung, he does the work of nine men.

The selection of numbers do not appear to be random, and may well have a symbolic significance not yet fully understood.

Metrics

Historically, scholars have been concerned with the unusual metre of this verse.

From the French of F.G. Bergmann (1871), as Dits de Grimnir:
 
Verse 2:

Cette strophe ne saurait être authentique. Car 1° elle est composée la versification du fornyrdalag, tandis que tout le poëm est composé dans le liôdahattr (voy. p. 59); 2° cette strophe énonce qu'Odinn a déjà passé huit nuits entre les feux; de sorte que, d'après elle, le récit du poëme commencerait seulement la huitième nuit, tandis que, évidemment, le poëme doit être considéré comme commençant à la première nuit ou soirée après l'arrivée d'Odinn; 3° dans cette strophe, non authentique, il est question du mets (matr) offert par Agnarr à Grimnir; elle appartient, par conséquent, à un autre poëme, où il était question de nourriture offerte à Odinn, tandis que le poëme de Grimnismâl dit positivement que Agnarr a présenté à l'hôte non à manger, mais à boire (voy. p. 247). Cette strophe, non authentique, appartient originairement ô un ancien söguliodh (voy. p. 52); elle a été insérée, postérieurement ici dans notre poëme, soit par un skalde, qui confondait et mêlait, dans sa mémoire, le Grimnismâl avec söguliodh, soit par un copiste, qui a mis dans le texte du Grimnismâl cette strophe, qui était tirée du söguliodh, et qui avait été mise en marge dans le manuscript du Grimnismâl qu'il copiat. "This strophe cannot possibly be authentic. For one reason, it is composed in the fornyrdalag versification, while the rest of poem is composed in liôdahattr (see p. 59); 2nd, this strophe states that Odin has already spent eight nights between the fires, so that the narrative of the poem should begin after the eighth night, while, it is evident that the poem must be considered as beginning on the first night or evening after Odin's arrival; 3rd, in this inauthentic strophe, there is a question of a dish (matr) offered to Grimnir by Agnarr; Thus, it must belong to a poem where there is a question of food offered to Odin, while the poem Grimnismâl positively states that Agnarr presented the host, not with something to eat, but to drink (see. p. 247). It was subsequently inserted here into our poem by a skald who in his memory confused and mixed Grimnismâl with a saga-song (see p. 52), or by a copyist, who placed within the text of Grimnismâl itself, a strophe that was taken from a saga-song and perhaps written in the margin of the manuscript of Grimnismâl."

Richard C. Boer, Edda Kommentar, 1922: 
Vigfusson (CPB I, 78) hat die strophe als fornyrðislag strophe gestrichen. Die erste hälfte ist ljóðháttr. Z 8 hat Bugge udt Gotnum gelesen; dafür Sievers (Beiträge 6, 355) Gotum.
 
"Vigfusson (Corpus Poeticum Boreale I, 78) painted the verse as a fornyrðislag strophe. The first half is ljóðháttr. In line 8, Bugge reads Gotnum; but Sievers (Contributions 6, 355) Gotum."
 
Hugo Gering, Edda Kommentar, 1927:
2 ist mit unrecht für eine fornyrþislag-strophe angesehen worden. Infolge dieser irrigen auffassung nahmen frühere herausgeber (auch noch Bugge, Grundtvig, Finnur Jónsson und Detter-Heinzel) nach mange (z. 2) eine cäsur an. Wir haben es aber mit einem verse BB zu tun (Ljóðah. 137) und solche verse sind mehrfach überliefert (Hóv. 41, 4; 97, 2; 129, 7. Ls 40,2; 61, 2; Fj. 15, 4; HHv 22, 4; Rm 3, 4; Fm 21, 2 usw.) Die 4 zeile verstösst allerdings gegen das Buggesche gesetz, aber ändert man Gotna lande in Gotom, was bereits Sievers vorschlug [s. den textband], so  ist alles in ordnung und man nicht mit Guðbr. Vigfússon und Schullerus die sonst ganz unverdächtige und kaum entbehrliche strophe als interpoliert zu streichen. Z. 4 ist ein vers A*C2 (Ljóðah. 158, anmm; 183, 1) "2 is incorrectly regarded as a fornyrþislag strophe. 'As a result of this erroneous view earlier editors (including Bugge, Grundtvig, Finnur Jónsson and Detter Heinzel) assumed a caesura after (line 2).'  But, we have to a verse in ljóðaháttr,  (Ljóðah. 137) and such verses are delivered several times (Havamal. 41, 4; 97, 2; 129, 7; Lokasenna 40,2; 61, 2; Fjolsvinnsmal. 15, 4; Helgakvida Hjorvardsson 22, 4 ; Reginsmal 3, 4; Fafnismal 21, 2 etc.) However, the 4th line violates Bugge's law; but if one changes to , as Sievers already suggested, everything is fine, and one need not, with Guðbrandur Vigfússon and Schullerus, delete as an  interpolation the otherwise entirely unsuspicious and  hardly dispensable strophe.  Line 4 is an A*C2 verse."
 
2, 2. mat durch  mjóð zu ersetzen scheint eine verlockende konjektur. Aber matr bezeichnet sowohl feste wie flüssige nahrung, s. zu Vm. 45, 3. "2, 2 to replace mat (food, meat) with mjóð (mead) seems an enticing conjecture. But matr designates both solid and liquid food, as in Vafthrudnismal 45, 3."
Further Reading
"The Number Nine in the Tradition of the Norsemen,"  by Arkadiusz Soltysiak in "Między Drzewem Życia a Drzewem Poznania. Księga ku czci profesora Andrzeja Wiercińskiego", M.S. Ziółkowski & A. Sołtysiak (Eds), 2003, pp. 231–242.
 

[PREVIOUS][MAIN][NEXT
[HOME]