The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide
 The Speech of the Masked One
Codex Regius
MS No. 2365 4to  [R]
Arnamagnæan Codex
AM 748 I 4to [A]
1954 Guðni Jónsson
Normalized Text:

Fimm hvndrvþ gólfa
oc vm fiorum togum,
svá hygg ek Bilskirrni með bvgom;
ranna þeira
er ek rept vita,
míns veit ek mest magar.  

Fim. h. gólfa
ok um fiorum tigvm,
svá hygg æk a
 valhöll vera Bil skirrni með bvgom;
ranna þeira
er ek rept vita,
míns veit ek mest magar.  

Fimm hundruð gólfa
ok umb fjórum tögum,
svá hygg ek Bilskirrni með bugum;
ranna þeira
er ek reft vita,
míns veit ek mest magar.  

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

 XXIV. Five hundred domes aspiring high,
With forty others pierce the sky:
There, Gods in mazy lab'rynths roam ---
One portal leads to ev'ry dome:
But that which loftiest pillars grace,
Belongs to my illustrious race.

Five hundred and forty, I think, are the spacious halls
That stretch beneath Bilscirni'a winding roof;
Of all the hall-filled piles which I have known,
Greatest, I know, is the palace of my son.

1866 Benjamin Thorpe
in Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða

The Lay of Grimnir
1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
The Sayings of Grimnir

24. Five hundred floors,
and forty eke, I think,
has Bilskirnir with its windings.
Of all the roofed
houses that I know,
is my son’s the greatest.

24. Five hundred rooms        and forty there are
I ween, in Bilskirnir built;
Of all the homes        whose roofs I beheld,
My son’s the greatest meseemed.

1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir
1962 Lee M. Hollander
in The Poetic Edda
The Lay of Grimnir

24. Five hundred rooms and forty there are
I ween, in Bilskirnir built;
Of all the homes whose roofs I beheld,
My son’s the greatest meseemed.

23. Five hundred rooms  and forty withal
    I ween that in Bilskirnir be;
    of all the halls  which on high are reared
    the greatest I see is my son's.

1967 W. H. Auden & P. B. Taylor
in The Elder Edda
The Lay of Grimnir
1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnir’s Sayings

23. Five hundred and forty doors
are built into Bilskirnir,
Furnished with rings: of roofed halls
The largest belongs to my son.

24. Five hundred daises and forty,
so I think Bilskirnir has in all;
of all those halls which I know to be roofed,
my son's I think is the greatest.

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"

24. Five hundred floors
and about forty more, so I think,
are in Defier of Ruin, all reckoned,
Of those residences
that I know have a roof
the greatest, I am sure, is my son's.

24.  ‘Five hundred floors and forty
I think Bilskírnir has in all;
of all the dwellings that I know with roofs
my son’s I reckon the most.



In R, verses 23 and 24 are reversed. Here, these verses are arranged according to the A manuscript.

The name Bilskirnir only appears twice in Snorri’s Edda. There he quotes the verse from Grímnismál and later in Skáldskaparmál quotes  a skaldic kenning containing the name.
Gylfaginning 21:

Þá mælti Gangleri: "Hver eru nöfn annarra ásanna, eða hvat hafast þeir at, eða hvat hafa þeir gert til frama?"

Hárr segir: "Þórr er þeira framast, sá er kallaðr er Ása-Þórr eða Öku-Þórr. Hann er sterkastr allra goðanna ok manna. Hann á þar ríki, er Þrúðvangar heita, en höll hans heitir Bilskirrnir. Í þeim sal eru fimm hundruð gólfa ok fjórir tigir. Þat er hús mest, svá at menn viti. Svá segir í Grímnismálum:
Fimm hundruð golfa
ok umb fjórum tögum,
svá hygg ek Bilskirrni með bugum;
ranna þeira,
er ek reft vita,
míns veit ek mest magar.

XXI.  Then said Gangleri: "What are the names of the other Æsir, or what is their office, or what deeds of renown have they done?"
Hárr answered: "Thor is the foremost of them, he that is called Thor of the Æsir, or Öku-Thor; he is strongest of all the gods and men. He has his realm in the place called Thrúdvangar, and his hall is called Bilskirnir ("From the flashing of light"); in that hall are five hundred rooms and forty. That is the greatest house that men know of; It is thus said in Grímnismál:
Five hundred floors | and more than forty,
So reckon I Bilskirnir with bending ways;
Of those houses | that I know of hall-roofed,
My son's I know the most.

 The name of Thor’s hall appears again in a skaldic verse from the 10th century, preserved in Snorri’s Edda:
Skáldskaparmál 11: Thor kennings

Hvernig skal kenna Þór? Svá, at kalla hann son Óðins ok Jarðar, faðir Magna ok Móða ok Þrúðar, verr Sifjar, stjúpfaðir Ullar, stýrandi ok eigandi Mjöllnis ok megingjarða, Bilskirrnis, verjandi Ásgarðs, Miðgarðs, dólgr ok bani jötna ok trollkvinna, vegandi Hrungnis, Geirröðar, Þrívalda, dróttinn Þjálfa ok Rösku, dólgr Miðgarðsorms, fóstri Vingnis ok Hlóru. Svá kvað Bragi skáld:

"How shall Thor be referred to? By calling him son of Odin and Jord, father of Magni and Modi and Thrud, husband of Sif, stepfather of Ull, ruler and owner of Mjöllnir and the belt of might, of Bilskirnir, defender of Asgard, Midgard, enemy and slayer of giants and troll-wives, killer of Hrungnir, Geirrod, Thrivaldi, lord of Thjalfi and Roskva, enemy of the Midgard serpent, fister-son of Vingnir and Hlora. 
Snorri also provides a poetic passage as support for the paraphrase "stýrandi ok eigandi ...Bilskirrnis":

Svá kvað Gamli:
Þá er gramr, hinn er svik samðit,
snart Bilskirrnis hjarta,
grundar fisk með grandi
gljúfrskeljungs nam rjúfa.

Thus said Gamli:
"While Bilskirnir's lord,
whose heart fashioned no falsehood,
swiftly strove to shatter
The sea-bed-fish [the Midgard serpent] with the gorge-whale's [giant's] bane [Mjöllnir]."



Based on this skaldic verse, there is little question that Bilskirnir is the name of Thor’s hall. It seems apparent that the Grímnismál poet is making a conscious comparison between Valhall and Bilskirnir. However, I don’t think he is attempting to identify the two places as some have suggested— merely drawing a comparison.
The poet of Grímnismál makes it a point to compare Bilskirnir to Valhall, beginning each stanza with nearly identical lines. The lines are so close that one of the transcribers of the poem (either the scribe of Codex Regius, or the scribe of AM 748 I 4to) got their original order confused. The verses are reversed in these— the only manuscript copies of the poem.
The comparison may be one of function. At Ragnarok, 800 warriors will issue from each of Valhall's doors to join the battle. Thor accompanies them to the battlefield. The poet intend is probably to highlight the comparison between Thor’s role as the defender of Asgard and the important role of the Einherjar. The Einherjar join Odin when he faces the wolf Fenrir. Thor faces Jormungand, Fenrir’s brother, the Midgard serpent alone. 
 Yet, there is some evidence that Thor may face Fenrir as well. In the Codex Regius manuscript of Völuspá 54, the poet says:

Þa komr iN mori
ma/gr hlodyniar
gengr oþins sonr
vid ulf vega

54. Then comes the mighty
son (Thor) of Hlódyn (Earth):
(Odin’s son goes
to fight the

The passage has no parallel in the Hauksbók manuscript or in the manuscripts of Snorri's Edda. It is also possible that the phrase "Odin's son" inserted here was intended to refer to Vidar, who avenges his father by slaying Fenrir.  However, most translators and scholars generally emend the word “wolf” found there to “orm” ('serpent') since Odin's son Thor is the subject of the verse, and  Snorri informs us that he is to face his traditional enemy Jörmungand, the Midgard serpent  at Ragnarök and not the Fenris wolf.

It is of interest to note that the verse concerning Valhall says that it has 540 doors (dyrr) while Bilskirnir has 540 floors or rooms (golf). Otherwise, each verse begins with the same half-stanza.

1984 Rudolf Simek, Dictionary of Northern Mythology:

Bilskírnir (ON,' the one striking lightning with rays of light').

2002 John Lindow, Handbook of Norse Mythology:

"The meaning of the name is unclear, but it seems to be either 'suddenly illuminated [by lightning]' or 'everlasting'." 

Bilskírnir, An Alternative Reading
by Carla O’Harris

It's true that in Icelandic, the word "bil" means "twinkling of an eye" or a "flash", but when approaching an Eddic poem, we must assume that some words may have more archaic meanings which may have been lost to contemporaries or compilers of dictionaries.

I would suggest that the meaning of the word in Anglo-Saxon, as attested in Bosworth/Toller, will bring us closer to the meaning :

"BIL, bill, es; n. An old military weapon, with a hooked point, and an edge on the back, as well as within the curve, a BILL or a broad two-edged sword, a falchion. Whatever its shape, it must have had two edges; as, in the earliest poem, an envoy is attacked, billes ecgum, with the edges of a bill; falx, marra, falcastrum, ensis curvus. Hitherto this word has only been found in poetry :-- Ðá ic, on morgne, gefrægn mæ-acute;g óðerne billes ecgum on bonan stælan then on the morrow, I have heard of the other kinsman setting on the slayer with the edges of a bill, Beo. Th. 4963; B. 2485. Geseah ðá sige-eádig bil, eald sweord eótenisc then he saw a victorious bill, an old giant sword, Beo. Th. 3119; B. 1557. Abrægd mid ðý bille he brandished with his sword, Cd. 142; Th. 177, 17; Gen. 2931. Billa ecgum with the edges of swords, Cd. 210; Th. 260, 14; Dan. 709. Billum abreótan to destroy with swords, Cd. 153; Th. 190, 14; Exod. 199. [Laym. bil a falchion: O. Sax. bil, n: Dut. bijl, f: Ger. beil, beihel, n: M. H. Ger. bíle, bíl, n: O. H. Ger. bihal, bial, n: Sansk. bil to divide; findere.] DER. gúþ-bil, hilde-, stán-, twí-, wíg-, wudu-. "

Note this usage has cognates in Old Saxon, Dutch, and German, and the clincher is that even in Sanskrit it refers to a cleaving action. Note the Beowulf quote, which to me is clearly relevant here : "He saw then a victory-rich sword, old giant sword."

Now if I may make this archaic reading here, then Bil-Skirnir would mean :

"Skirnir's Sword".

Skirnir indeed utilizes a sword referred to in Skirnismal as the "gambantein", lent to him by Frey, which "fights giants by itself". This is an extraordinarily powerful sword, and one which Frey will give up to obtain Gerd, yet which will prove his undoing at Ragnarok.

Why would a hall be called Skirnir's Sword?

It might plausibly be called that if it were the place where such a sword was customarily stored and guarded.

Whether one takes the point of view that Bilskirnir is Valhall or whether it is Thor's domain, one can think of no better place to guard such a precious treasure than either in Odin's Hall under the protection of all the Einherjar, or under the protection of Thor. The case could be made either way. If the Freysword is indeed the Volundsword "Mimung", then it is the sword which cleaved Thor's metal Mjollnir, and thus there would be a certain irony to his guarding that sword.

Now it is true that even under my interpretation, the hall could still simply mean "The Clear/Gleaming Sword", but given that the word "skirnir" is in there, and is a heiti of a servant of Frey, it seems relevant to consider the interpretation which I am putting forward.