The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide
The Speech of the Masked One
MS No. 2365 4to [R]
AM 748 I 4to [A]
33. Hirtir eru ok fjórir,
þeirs af hefingar á
Dáinn ok Dvalinn,
Dvneyr ok Dvraþrór.
33. Hirtir eru ok fjórir,
þeirs af hæfingiar á
Dáinn ok Dvalinn,
Dýneyr ok Dyraþrór.
33. Hirtir eru ok fjórir,
þeirs af hæfingar
Dáinn ok Dvalinn,
Duneyrr ok Duraþrór.
in Icelandic Poetry
Song of Grimnir”
1851 C.P. in
The Yale Magazine, Vol. 16
Song of Grimner”
protected by its boughs,
With lifted foreheads daily browze.
“Four Stags," --- Their names are, Dainn, Dualinn, Duneyrr, and
Also four stags there are—
Who, twisting their necks,
gnaw the boughs of the ash.
1866 Benjamin Thorpe
Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða
Lay of Grimnir”
1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson
in Corpus Poeticum Boreale
Sayings of the Hooded One”
33. Harts there are also four,
which from its summits,
Dain and Dvalin,
Duneyr and Durathror.
There are four bow-necked Harts that gnaw the [high shoots]:
Dain and Dwalin, Duneyr and Durathror.
1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
Sayings of Grimnir”
1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
The Ballad of Grimnir”
33. There are four harts too, who with heads thrown back
gnaw the topmost boughs of the tree :
Dainn the Dead One. Dvalin the Dallier,
Duneyr and Dyrathror.
33.  Four harts there are,
that the  highest twigs
Nibble with necks bent back;
Dain and Dvalin, -lacuna-
Duneyr and Dyrathror.
 Stanzas 33-34 may well be interpolated and are
certainly in bad shape in the manuscripts. Bugge points out that they
are probably of later origin than those surrounding them.
 Highest twigs: a guess. The manuscripts' words are baffling.
Something apparently has been lost between lines 3-4.
1962 Lee M. Hollander
in The Poetic Edda
Lay of Grimnir”
H. Auden & P. B. Taylor
The Elder Edda
Lay of Grimnir”
harts also the highest shoots
ay gnaw from beneath:
Dáin and Dvalin,
Duneyr and Dyrathror.]
The following two stanzas are very likely interpolations.
 These are, rather,
33. Four the harts who the high boughs
Gnaw with necks thrown back:
Dain and Dvalin,
Duneyr and Durathror.
1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
2011 Ursula Dronke
in The Poetic Edda, Vol. III: Mythological Poems
“The Lay of Grimnir”
33. 'There are four harts too, who gnaw with necks thrown
the highest boughs;
Dain and Dvalin,
Duneyr and Durathror.
33. There are also four stags who
from [their proper sweet pasture]
[perpetually] nibble with straining neck:
Dead One and Dawdling One,
Downy Beach and Door Stubborn.
2011 Andy Orchard
The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore
'The Lay of Grimnir"
33. ‘There are four harts, and the budding shoots
they gnaw with necks thrown-back:
Dead-one and Dawdler,
Duneyr and Durathrór.
This stanza is paraphrased in Gylfaginning 16 (A. Broedur Translation):
en fjórir hirtir renna í limum asksins ok bíta barr. Þeir heita
svá: Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Duraþrór. En svá margir ormar eru
í Hvergelmi með Níðhögg, at engi tunga má telja.
...and four harts run in the limbs of the Ash and bite the
leaves. They are called thus: Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr,
Grímnismál 33 introduces four harts who eat from the branches of the
world-tree. Sometimes they are interpreted as allegorical in nature,
although conflicting proposals about their significance have been
offered over the years.
Of the four animals named here, only the first two can be translated
with certianty. The last two names, Duneyrr ok Duraþrór, are of
uncertain meaning. They have been translated variously as:
'Murmur' and 'Delay'; "The Symbolism of the Eddas",
National Review Quarterly, 1865.
'Quiets-Noise' (Apaise-Bruit) and 'Drowsy' (Somnolent); Frederic Bergmann,
Dits de Grimir, 1871
'The noisy, maker of din' and 'the
door-breaker(?)'; Benjamin Thorpe, Northern Mythology, 1851
'Downy Beach' and 'Door Stubborn'; Ursula Dronke, Poetic
Edda III, 2011
names of the first and second hart, however, can be established.
Dáinn means "the dead one", and is derived from the verb deyja,
'dead, deceased', (cp. Danish daane = 'to swoon') according to
Dictionary. Dáinn has been variously translated as:
National Review Quarterly, 1865.
'Swooning'; Benjamin Thorpe, Northern Mythology,
'Made-drowsy' (Assoupi); Frederic Bergmann,
Dits de Grimir, 1871
'Dead one" Olive Bray, The Elder or Poetic Edda, 1908
'Dead-one'; Andy Orchard, The Elder Edda, 2011
'Dead One'; Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda III, 2011
Dvalinn can be interpreted as "one who dallies",
Dictionary) or as "one who lies in slumber" (Egilsson,
Lexicon Poeticum), derived from dvala, 'to slow down' or
dvelja, 'to delay.' The name has been
variously translated as:
Review Quarterly, 1865.
Benjamin Thorpe, Northern Mythology, 1851
'Fainting" (Défaillant); Frederic Bergmann, Dits de Grimir,
'Dallier'; Olive Bray, The Elder or Poetic Edda, 1908
'Dawdling One'; Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda III, 2011
Andy Orchard, The Elder Edda, 2011
Based on the meaning of their names, Dáinn and Dvalinn, may be the
Germanic representatives of Death and Sleep. Notably, the names Dáinn
and Dvalinn, are most often applied to dwarves found throughout the
lore. Other than here in Grímnismál 33 and in a list of hart names in
Skáldskaparmál, Dáinn and Dvalinn are named together as dwarves in
Völuspá 11 and Hávamál 143.
Dáinn appears in Hyndluljóð 7 and Hrafnagaldur Óðinns 3.
Dvalinn is named in Völuspá 14, Alvismál 16, Fafnismál 13, in a verse by
Ormr Steinþórsson in Skáldskaparmál 10, a list of kennings in
Skáldskaparmál 56, and as owner of the horse Móðnir in a fragment of the
poem Alvinnsmál preserved in Skáldskaparmál 58. In the late
Hervarar saga og
Heiðreks, the dwarf Dvalin makes the sword Tyrfing. In
Sörla Þáttur eða
Héðins Saga ok Högna, the four dwarves who forge Freyja's necklace
Brisingamen are named Álfrigg, Dvalinn,
Berlingr, and Grérr. In Sólarljóð 78, we find the name Vig-Dvalin,
in a poetic reference to a tale told of the dwarf Álfrigg in Þiðreks
Saga af Bern ch. 40.
Thus, if the harts are symbolic, it seems most likely that they
Dvergr: Dwarves in Germanic Lore
The author of the dwarf-list in Völuspá 11-16 makes all holy
powers assemble to consult as to who shall create "the dwarves," the
artist-clan of the mythology. The wording of
strophe 10 indicates that on a
being by name Móðsognir, Mótsognir, was bestowed the dignity of chief of the
proposed artist-clan [þar var Móðsognir mæztr um orðinn dverga allra] and
that he, with the assistance of Durin (Durinn), carried out the resolution
of the gods, and created dwarves resembling men. The author of the dwarf
list must have assumed -
That Modsognir was one of the older beings of the world, for the assembly of
gods here in question took place in the morning of time before the creation
That Modsognir possessed a promethean power of creating.
That he either belonged to the circle of holy powers himself, or stood in a
close and friendly relation to them, since he carried out the resolve of the
Accordingly, we should take Modsognir to be one of the more remarkable
characters of the mythology. But either he is not mentioned anywhere else
than in this place - we look in vain for the name Modsognir elsewhere - or
this name is merely a skaldic epithet, which has taken the place of a more
common name, and which by reference to a familiar distinguishing
characteristic indicates a mythic person well known and mentioned elsewhere.
It cannot be disputed that the word looks like an epithet. Egilsson (Lexicon
Poeticum) defines it as the mead-drinker (‘one who sucks in mead’). If the
definition is correct, then the epithet was badly chosen if it did not refer
to Mimir, who originally was the sole possessor of the mythic mead, and who
daily drank of it (Völuspá 28 - drekkur mjöð Mímir morgun hverjan).
Still nothing can be built simply on the definition of a name, even if it is
correct beyond a doubt. All the indices which are calculated to shed light
on a question should be collected and examined. Only when they all point in
the same direction, and give evidence in favor of one and the same solution
of the problem, the latter can be regarded as settled.
Several of the "dwarves" created by Modsognir are named in Völuspá 11-13.
Among them is Dvalin. In the opinion of the author of the list of dwarves,
Dvalin must have occupied a conspicuous place among them, for he is the only
one of all the dwarves who is mentioned as having a number of his own kind
as subjects (Völuspá 14 - dverga í Dvalins liði, “the dwarves in
Dvalin’s band”). Therefore, the problem as to whether Modsognir is identical
with Mimir should be decided by the answers to the following questions:
Is that which is said about Modsognir also said of Mimir?
Do the statements which we have about Dvalin show that he was particularly
connected with Mimir and with the lower world, the realm of Mimir?
Of Modsognir, it is said (Völuspá 10) that he
was mæztr um orðinn dverga allra: he became the chief of all dwarves, or, in
other words, the foremost among all artists. Have we any similar report of
The German middle-age poem, "Biterolf," relates that its hero possessed a
sword, made by Mimir the Old, Mime der alte, who was the most excellent
smith in the world. Even Wieland (Völund, Wayland was not to be
compared with him), still less anyone else, with the one exception of
Hertrich, who was Mimir's co-laborer, and assisted him in making all the
treasures he produced (Biterolf, 144 ff.):
Zuo siner (Mimir's)
ich nieman kan gelichen
in allen fürsten richen
an einen, den ich nenne,
daz man in dar bi erkenne:
Der war Hertrich genant.
. . . . . . .
Durch ir sinne craft
so hæten sie geselleschaft
an werke und an allen dingen.
|To his (Mimir's) mastery
I can compare no one
in all the princely realms
except the one that I name,
so that he is recognized thereby:
He was named Hertrich.
. . . . . . .
Through the power of their understanding
they were able to collaborate
on works and on all things
Þidreks Saga af Bern, which is based on both German and Norse sources,
states that Mimir was an artist, in whose workshop the sons of princes and
the most famous smiths learned the trade of the smith. Among his apprentices
are mentioned Velint (Völund), Sigurd-Sven, and Eckehard.
It should be remembered what Saxo also tells of incomparable treasures which
are preserved in Gudmund-Mimir's domain, among which are arma humanorum
corporum habitu grandiora, “arms laid out too great for those of human
stature” (Hist., Book 8) and about the satyr Mimingus (‘son of Mimir’), who
possesses the sword of victory, and an arm-ring which produces wealth
(Hist., Book 3). If we consult the poetic Edda, we find Mimir mentioned as
Hodd-Mimir, Treasure-Mimir (Vafþrúðnismál 45); as naddgöfugr jötunn, the
giant celebrated for his weapons (Gróugaldur 14); as Hoddrofnir, or
Hodd-dropnir, the treasure-dropping one (Sigurdrífumál 13); as Baugreginn,
the king of the gold-rings (Sólarljóð 56). And as shall be shown hereafter,
the chief smiths in the poetic Edda are put in connection with Mimir as the
one on whose fields they dwell, or in whose smithy they work.
In the Norse sagas of the Middle Ages, the dwarf Dvalin, created by
Modsognir, is remembered as an extraordinary artist. There he is said to
have assisted in the fashioning of the sword Tyrfing (Hervarar saga ch. 4-
nema sverð seljið, það er sló Dvalinn), of Freyja's splendid ornament
Brisingamen, celebrated also in Anglo-Saxon poetry (Sörla þáttur ch. 1). In
the poem Snjófríðardrápa, which is attributed to Harald Fairhair, the drapa
is likened to a work of art, which rings forth from beneath the fingers of
Dvalin (hrynr fram úr Dvalins greip; Flateybók., I. 582). This beautiful
poetical figure is all the more appropriately applied, since Dvalin was not
only the producer of the beautiful works of the smith, but also sage and
skald. He was one of the few chosen ones in time's morning who were
permitted to drink of Mimir's mead, which therefore is called his drink
(Dvalins drykkr - Skáldskaparmál 10).
In the earliest antiquity, no one partook of this drink who did
not get it from Mimir himself.
In Hávamál 143, arrangements are made for spreading runic
knowledge among all kinds of beings. Odin taught them to his own clan; Dáinn
taught them to the Elves; Dvalinn among the dwarfs; Ásviðr among the giants.
Even the giants became participants in the good gift, which, mixed with
sacred mead, was sent far and wide. It has since been found among the Aesir,
among the Elves, among the wise Vanir, and among the children of men
(Sigrdrífumál 18). The same Dvalinn, who spread the runes to his clan of
ancient artists, is the father of daughters, who are in possession of
bjargrúnar (helping-runes) and who, together with Asynjes and Vana-disar,
employ them in the service of man (Fáfnismál 12-13).
Therefore Dvalin is one of the most ancient rune-masters, one of those who
brought the knowledge of runes to those beings of creation who were endowed
with reason (Hávamál 143). But all knowledge of runes came originally from
Mimir. As skald and runic scholar, Dvalin, therefore, stood in the relation
of disciple under the ruler of the lower world.
The myth in regard to the runes mentioned three apprentices, who afterwards
each spread the knowledge of runes among his own class of beings. Odin, who
in the beginning was ignorant of the mighty and beneficent rune-songs
(Hávamál 138-143), was Mimir's chief disciple by birth, and taught the
knowledge of runes among his kinsmen, the Aesir (Hávamál 143), and among
men, his protégés (Sigurdrífumál 18 - sumar hafa mennskir men “and living
men have some”). The other disciples were Dain (Dáinn) and Dvalin (Dvalinn).
Dain, like Dvalin, is an artist created by Modsognir (Völuspá 11, Hauksbók
and Gylfaginning). He is mentioned side by side with Dvalin, and like him he
has tasted the mead of poesy (munnvigg Dáins - in a verse composed by the
poet Sighvat, preserved in the Flateybók, among additions to Ólaf's sögu
helga). Dain and Dvalin taught the runes to their clans, that is, to elves
and dwarves (Hávamál 143). Nor were the giants neglected. They learned the
runes from Ásviðr. Since the other teachers of runes belong to the clans, to
which they teach the knowledge of runes - "Odin among Aesir, Dain among
elves, Dvalin among dwarves" - there can be no danger of making a mistake,
if we assume that Ásviðr was a giant. And as Mimir himself is a giant, and
as the name Ásviðr (= Ásvinr) means “friend of the Aesir”, and as no one -
particularly among the giants - has so much right as Mimir to this epithet,
which has its counterpart in Odin's epithet, Míms vinr (“Mimir's friend”),
then caution dictates that we keep open the highly probable possibility that
Mimir himself is meant by Ásviðr.
All that has here been stated about Dvalin shows that the
mythology has referred him to a place within the domain of Mimir's activity.
We have still to point out two statements in regard to him. Sol is said to
have been his leika (Alvíssmál 16 - kalla dvergar Dvalins leika;
cp. Nafnaþulur). Today, this is commonly interpreted to mean
'Dvalin's toy" and understood as a ironic reference to sunlight turning
dwarves to stone. However, that need not be the case. The word leika,
"plaything", as a feminine noun referring to a personal object, can mean a
young girl, a maiden, whom one keeps at his side, and in whose amusement one
takes part at least as a spectator. The examples which we have of the use of
the word indicate that the leika herself, and the person whose
leika she is, are presupposed to have the same home. Sisters are called
leikur, since they live together. Parents can call a
foster-daughter their leika. In the neuter gender, leika
means a plaything, a doll or toy, and even in this sense it can rhetorically
be applied to a person. In the same manner as Sol is called Dvalin's
leika, so the son of Nat and Delling, Dag, is called leikr Dvalins,
the lad or youth with whom Dvalin amused himself (Hrafnagaldur Óðins 24.)
Niflhel in the lower world has its counterpart in Niflheim in chaos.
Gylfaginning identifies the two (ch. 5 and 34). Hrafnagaldur Óðinns does the
same, and locates Niflheim far to the north in the lower world (norður
að Niflheim - st. 26), behind Yggdrasil's farthest root, under which
the poem makes the goddess of night, after completing her journey around the
heavens, rest for a new journey. When Night has completed such a journey and
come to the lower world, she goes northward in the direction towards
Niflheim, to remain in her hall, until Dag with his chariot gets down to the
western horizon and in his turn rides through the "horse doors" of Hades
into the lower world.
jó fram keyrði
mars of Manheim
mön af glóar,
dró leik Dvalins
drösull í reið.
|24. Delling's son
urged on his horse,
with precious stones;
The horse's mane glows
above Man-world (Midgard).
In his chariot, the steed draws
Dvalin's playmate (the sun).
í jódyr nyrðra
und rót yztu
gengu til rekkju
gýgjur og þursar,
|25. At Jormungrund's
under the outermost root
of the noble Tree,
to their couches went
giantesses and giants
dead men and dwarves
norður að Niflheim
upp nam Árgjöll
26. The gods arose,
Alfrodull (the sun) ran.
Night advanced north
Ulfrun's son (Heimdall)
lifted up Argjoll (his horn),
the mighty hornblower
Thus the whole group of persons among whom Dvalin is placed -
Mimir, who is his teacher; Sol, who is his leika; Dag, who is his
leikr; Night, who is the mother of his leikr; Delling, who is the
father of his leikr - have their dwellings in Mimir's domain, and
belong to the subterranean class of divine beings in the Germanic religion.
From regions situated below Midgard's horizon, Night, Sol, and Dag draw
their chariots upon the heavens. On the eastern border of the lower world is
the point of departure for their regular journeys over the heavens of the
upper world ("the upper heavens," upphiminn - Völuspá 3;
Vafþrúðnismál 20, and elsewhere; uppheimur - Alvíssmál 12).
From this it follows that Niflhel is to be referred to the north of the
mountain Hvergelmir, Hel to the south of it. Thus this mountain is the wall
separating Hel from Niflhel. On that mountain is the gate, or gates, which
in the Gorm story separates Gudmund-Mimir's abode from those dwellings which
resemble a "cloud of vapor," and up there is the boundary, at which halir
die for the second time, when they are transferred from Hel to Niflhel.
The immense water-reservoir on the brow of the mountain, which stands under
Yggdrasil's northern root, as already stated, sends rivers down to
both sides - to Niflhel in the North and to Hel in the South. Of the
majority of these rivers we know nothing but their names. But those of which we
do know more are characterized in such a manner that we find that it is a
sacred land to which those flowing to the South towards Hel hasten their
course, and that it is an unholy land which is sought by those which send
their streams to the north down into Niflhel. The rivers Gjöll and Leiftur
fall down into Hel, and Gjöll is, as already indicated, characterized by a
bridge of gold, Leiftur by a shining, clear, and most holy water. Down there
in the South is found the mystic
hodd goða, surrounded by other Hel-rivers;
Baldur's and Lif and
Lifthrasir's citadel (perhaps identical with hodd goda);
Mimir's fountain, seven times overlaid with gold, the fountain of
inspiration and of the creative force, over which the "brilliant holy tree"
spreads its branches (Völuspá 27),
and around whose reed-wreathed edge the seed of poetry grows (Eilífr
Guðrúnarson, Skáldskaparmál 10, Jónsson edition); the Glittering Fields,
with flowers which never fade and with harvests which never are gathered;
Urd's fountain, over which Yggdrasil stands for ever green (Völuspá 20), and
in whose silver-white waters swans swim; and the sacred thing-stead of the
Aesir, to which they daily ride down over Bifrost. North of the mountain
roars the weapon-hurling Slíður, and doubtless is the same river as that in
whose "heavy streams" the souls of nithings must wade. In the North,
sólu fjarri ('far from the sun') stands, also at Nastrond, that
hall, the walls of which are braided of serpents (Völuspá 37). Thus Hel is
described as an Elysium, Niflhel with its subject regions as a realm of
The Medieval Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus
Christian legend concerning the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus may have its
chief, if not its only, root in a Germanic myth popularized in Europe in the
second half of the fifth or in the first half of the sixth century. At that time
large portions of the Germanic tribes had already been converted to
Christianity: the Goths, Vandals, Gepidians, Rugians, Burgundians, and Swabians
were Christians. Considerable parts of the Roman Empire were settled by the
Germans or governed by their swords. The Franks were on the point of entering
the Christian Church, and behind them the Alamannians and Longobardians. Their
myths and sagas were reconstructed so far as they could be adapted to the new
forms and ideas, and if they, more or less transformed, assumed the garb of a
Christian legend, then this guise enabled them to travel to the utmost limits of
Christendom; and if they also contained ideas that were not entirely foreign to
the Greek-Roman world, then they might the more easily acquire the right of
In its oldest form the legend of the “Seven Sleepers" takes the following form
in 587 AD in Gregory of Tours’ De Gloria Martyrum ("The Glory of the Martyrs”)
Seven brothers (‘germani’) have their place of rest near
the city of Ephesus, and the story of them is as follows: In the time of the
Emperor Decius, while the persecution of the Christians took place, seven men
were captured and brought before the ruler. Their names were Maximianus,
Malchus, Martinianus, Constantius, Dionysius, Joannes, and Serapion. All sorts
of persuasion was attempted, but they would not yield. The emperor, who was
pleased with their courteous manners, gave them time for reflection, so that
they should not at once fall under the sentence of death. But they concealed
themselves in a cave and remained there many days. Still, one of them went out
to get provisions and attend to other necessary matters. But when the emperor
returned to the same city, these men prayed to God, asking Him in His mercy to
save them out of this danger, and when, lying on the ground, they had finished
their prayers, they fell asleep. When the emperor learned that they were in the
above-mentioned cave, he, under divine influence, commanded that the entrance of
the cave should be closed with large stones, "for," said he, "as they are
unwilling to offer sacrifices to our gods, they must perish there." While this
transpired a Christian man had engraved the names of the seven men on a leaden
tablet, and also their testimony in regard to their belief, and he had secretly
laid the tablet in the entrance of the cave before the latter was closed. After
many years, the congregations having secured peace and the Christian Theodosius
having gained the imperial dignity, the false doctrine of the Sadducees, who
denied resurrection, was spread among the people. At this time it happens that a
citizen of Ephesus is about to make an enclosure for his sheep on the mountain
in question, and for this purpose he loosens the stones at the entrance of the
cave, so that the cave was opened, but without his becoming aware of what was
concealed within. But the Lord sent a breath of life into the seven men and they
arose. Thinking they had slept only one night, they sent one of their number, a
youth, to buy food. When he came to the city gate he was astonished, for he saw
the glorious sign of the Cross, and he heard people aver by the name of Christ.
But when he produced his money, which was from the time of Decius, he was seized
by the vendor, who insisted that he must have found secreted treasures from
former times, and who, as the youth made a stout denial, brought him before the
bishop and the judge. Pressed by them, he was forced to reveal his secret, and
he conducted them to the cave where the men were. At the entrance the bishop
then finds the leaden tablet, on which all that concerned their case was noted
down, and when he had talked with the men a messenger was dispatched to the
Emperor Theodosius. He came and kneeled on the ground and worshipped them, and
they said to the ruler: "Most august Augustus! There has sprung up a false
doctrine which tries to turn the Christian people from the promises of God,
claiming that there is no resurrection of the dead. In order that you may know
that we are all to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ according to the
words of the Apostle Paul, the Lord God has raised us from the dead and
commanded us to make this statement to you. See to it that you are not deceived
and excluded from the kingdom of God." When the Emperor Theodosius heard this he
praised the Lord for not permitting His people to perish. But the men again lay
down on the ground and fell asleep. The Emperor Theodosius wanted to make graves
of gold for them, but in a vision he was prohibited from doing this. And until
this very day these men rest in the same place, wrapped in fine linen mantles.”
However the historian of the Franks, Bishop Gregory of Tours
(born 538 or 539), is the first one who presented in writing the legend
regarding the seven sleepers. His story is a faithful translation of a
tale found less than a century earlier in the homilies of Saint James of
Sarugh (452-521 AD), a bishop in Syria, a region also well acquainted
with Germanic tribes. His account is not written before the year 571 or
572. As the legend itself claims to date from the first years of the reign of Theodosius, it
cannot be older than his kingdom, 379-395 AD.
The next time we learn anything about the seven sleepers in
occidental literature is in the Longobardian historian Paul the Deacon
(723-799 AD). What he relates has greatly surprised investigators; for
although he must have been acquainted with the Christian version in
regard to the seven men who sleep for generations in a cave, and
although he entertained no doubt as to its truth, he nevertheless
relates another - and a Germanic - seven sleepers' legend, the scene of
which he places in the remotest part of Germania. He narrates (I. 4):
"As my pen is still occupied
with Germany, I deem it proper, in connection with some other miracles,
to mention one which there is on the lips of everybody. In the remotest
western boundaries of Germany is to be seen near the sea-strand under a
high rock a cave where seven men have been sleeping no one knows how
long. They are in the deepest sleep and uninfluenced by time, not only
as to their bodies but also as to their garments, so that they are held
in great honor by the savage and ignorant people, since time for so many
years has left no trace either on their bodies or on their clothes. To
judge from their dress they must be Romans. When a man from curiosity
tried to undress one of them, it is said that his arm at once withered,
and this punishment spread such a terror that nobody has since then
dared to touch them. Doubtless it will some day be apparent why Divine
Providence has so long preserved them. Perhaps by their preaching - for
they are believed to be none other than Christians -- this people shall
once more be called to salvation. In the vicinity of this place dwell
the race of the Skritobinians ('the Ski-Finns')."
In chapter 6 Paul makes the following additions, which will
be found to be of importance to our theme:
"Not far from that sea-strand which I
mentioned as lying far to the west (in the most remote Germany), where
the boundless ocean extends, is found the unfathomably deep eddy which
we traditionally call the navel of the sea. Twice a day it swallows the
waves, and twice it vomits them forth again. Often, we are assured,
ships are drawn into this eddy so violently that they look like arrows
flying through the air, and frequently they perish in this abyss. But
sometimes, when they are on the point of being swallowed up, they are
driven back with the same terrible swiftness."
From what Paul relates we learn that in the eighth century the
common belief ('on the lips of everybody') prevailed among the heathen
Germans that in the
neighborhood of that ocean-maelstrom, caused by Hvergelmir ("the roaring
kettle"), seven men slept from time immemorial under a rock. How far the
heathens believed that these men were Romans and Christians, or
whether this feature is to be attributed to a conjecture by Christianized
Germans, and came through influence from the Christian version of the
legend of the seven sleepers, is a question which it is not necessary to
discuss at present. That they are some day to awake to preach
Christianity to "the stubborn," still heathen Germanic tribes is
manifestly a supposition on the part of Paul himself, and he does not
present it as anything else. It has nothing to do with the saga in its
The first question now is: Has the heathen tradition in regard to the
seven sleepers, which, according to the testimony of the Longobardian
historian, was common among the heathens of the eighth century,
since then disappeared without leaving any traces in our mythic records?
The answer is: Traces of it reappear in Saxo, in Adam of
Bremen, in Norse and German popular belief, and in Völuspá. When
compared with one another these traces are sufficient to determine the
character and original place of the tradition in the epic of the
In Saxo's account of King Gorm's and Thorkil's journey to and
in the lower world, they and their companions are permitted to visit the
abodes of the damned and the fields of bliss, along with
the world-fountains, and to see the treasures preserved in
their vicinity. In the same realm where these fountains are found there
is, says Saxo, a tabernaculum within which still more precious treasures
are preserved. It is an uberioris thesauri secretarium, "a private
chamber with a yet richer treasure." The Danish adventurers also entered
here. The treasury was also an armory, and contained weapons suited to
be borne by warriors of superhuman size. The owners and makers of these
arms were also there, but they were perfectly quiet and as immovable as
lifeless figures. Still they were not dead, but made the impression of
being half-dead (semineces). By the enticing beauty and value
of the treasures, and partly, too, by the dormant condition of the
owners, the Danes were betrayed into an attempt to secure some of these
precious things. Even the usually cautious Thorkil set a bad example and
put his hand on a garment (amiculo manum inserens). We are not told by
Saxo whether the garment covered anyone of those sleeping in the
treasury, nor is it directly stated that the touching with the hand
produced any disagreeable consequences for Thorkil. But further on Saxo
relates that Thorkil became unrecognizable, because a withering or
emaciation (marcor) had changed his body and the features of his face.
With this account in Saxo we must compare what we read in
Adam of Bremen (Book 4) about the Frisian adventurers who tried to
plunder treasures belonging to giants who in the middle of the day lay
concealed in subterranean caves (meridiano tempore latitantes antris
subterraneis). This account must also have conceived the owners of
the treasures as sleeping while the plundering took place, for not
before they were on their way back were the Frisians pursued by the
plundered party or by other lower-world beings. Still, all but one
succeeded in getting back to their ships. Adam asserts that they were
such beings quos nostri cyclopes appellant ("which among us are
called cyclops"), that they, in other words, were gigantic smiths, who
accordingly themselves had made the untold amount of golden treasures
which the Frisians saw there. These northern cyclops, he says, dwelt
within solid walls, surrounded by a water, to which, according to Adam
of Bremen, one first comes after traversing the land of frost (provincia
frigoris), and after passing that Euripus, "in which the water of
the ocean flows back to its mysterious fountain" (ad initia quaedam
fontis sui arcani recurrens), "this deep subterranean abyss wherein
the ebbing streams of the sea, according to report, were swallowed up to
return," and which "with most violent force drew the unfortunate seamen
down into the lower world" (infelices nautos vehementissimo impetu
traxit ad Chaos).
It is evident that what Paul the Deacon, Adam of Bremen, and
Saxo here relate must be referred to the same tradition. All three refer
the scene of these strange things and events to the "most remote part of
Germany". According to all three reports, the boundless ocean washes the
shores of this saga-land which has to be traversed in order to get to
"the sleepers," to "the men half-dead and resembling lifeless images,"
to "those concealed in the middle of the day in subterranean caves."
Paul assures us that they are in a cave under a rock in the neighborhood
of the famous maelstrom which sucks the billows of the sea into itself
and spews them out again. Adam makes his Frisian adventurers come near
being swallowed up by this maelstrom before they reach the caves of
treasures where the cyclops in question dwell; and Saxo locates their
tabernacle, filled with weapons and treasures, to a region which we have
already recognized as belonging to Mimir's lower-world realm, and
situated in the neighborhood of the sacred subterranean fountains (See
Gudmund of Glæsisvellir).
In the northern part of Mimir's domain, consequently in the
vicinity of the Hvergelmir fountain, from and to which all waters find
their way, and which is the source of the famous maelstrom, there
stands, according to Völuspá 37, a golden hall in which Sindri's kinsmen
have their home. Sindri is, as we know, like his brother Brokk and
others of his kinsmen, an artist of antiquity, a cyclops, to use the
language of Adam of Bremen. The Northern records and the Latin
chronicles thus correspond in the statement that in the neighborhood of
the maelstrom or of its subterranean fountain, beneath a rock and in a
golden hall, or in subterranean caves filled with gold, certain men who
are subterranean artisans dwell. Paul the Deacon makes a "curious"
person who had penetrated into this abode disrobe one of the sleepers
clad in "Roman" clothes, and for this he is punished with a withered
arm. Saxo makes Thorkil put his hand on a splendid garment which he sees
there, and Thorkil returns from his journey with an emaciated body, and
is so lean and lank as not to be recognized.
The legend has preserved the connection found in the myth between the
above meaning and the idea of a resurrection of the dead. But in the
myth concerning Mimir's seven sons (the seven dwarves) this idea is most
intimately connected with the myth itself, and is, with epic logic,
united with the whole mythological system. In the legend, on the other
hand, the resurrection idea is put on as a trade-mark. The seven men in
Ephesus are lulled into their long sleep, and are waked again to appear
before Theodosius, the emperor, to preach a sermon illustrated by their
own fate against the false doctrine which tries to deny the resurrection
of the dead.
Gregorius says that he is the first who recorded in the Latin language
this miracle, as yet unknown to the Church of Western Europe. As his
authority he quotes "a certain Syrian" who had interpreted the story for
him. The story appeared in several Syrian sources before Gregory's
lifetime (Jacob of Sarug in Acta Santorum, Symeon Metaphrastes, Land's
Anecdota, iii. 87ff, Barhebraeus, Chron. eccles. i. 142ff., and
Assemani, Bib. Or. i. 335ff.). Another 6th-century version, in a Syrian
manuscript in the British Museum (Cat. Syr. Mss, p. 1090), gives eight
sleepers. There are considerable variations as to their names.
Even so, the contents may well be borrowed from the Germanic
mythology. That Syria or Asia Minor was the scene of its transformation
into a Christian legend is possible, and is not surprising. During and
immediately after the time to which the legend itself refers the
resurrection of the seven sleepers, the time of Theodosius, the Roman
Orient, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt were full of Germanic warriors who
had permanent quarters there. A Notitia dignitatu [Register of
Dignitaries] from this age speaks of hosts of Goths, Alamannians,
Franks, Chamavians, and Vandals, who there had fixed military quarters.
There then stood an ala Francorum, a cohors Alamannorum, a cohors
Chamavorum, an ala Vandilorum, a cohors Gothorum, and no doubt
there, as elsewhere in the Roman Empire, great provinces were colonized
by Germanic veterans and other immigrants. Nor must we neglect to remark
that the legend refers the falling asleep of the seven men to the time
of Decius. Decius fell in battle against the Goths, who, a few years
later, invaded Asia Minor and captured among other places also Ephesus.
The influence of the Germanic tribes in this region is confirmed by
Gibbons in his Of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Edward Gibbon, The History of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol.
III of VI. "The 7 Sleepers"
Míms Sýnir: The Sons of Mimir
In Skáldskaparmál 43, Loki pits two rival bands of smiths
against each other. They are the Sons of Ivaldi and the brothers, Brokk and
Sindri. The latter forge Thor’s hammer Mjöllnir, and thereby win the competition.
Völuspá 36 informs us that Sindri's golden hall stands on Nidavellir, "Nidi's
plains" near the giant Brimir (Mimir or Ymir's) beer-hall in Hel. There are
compelling reasons for assuming that the ancient artisans Brokk and Sindri are
identical with Dáinn and Dvalinn, the ancient artisans created by Mimir. This
conclusion is based on the following:
Dvalinn is mentioned by the side of Dáinn both in Hávamál 143 and in Grímnismál
33; also in the sagas, where they make treasures in company. Both the names are
clearly epithets which point to the mythic destiny of the ancient artists in
question. Dáinn means "the dead one," and in analogy with this we must interpret
Dvalinn as "the dormant one," "the one slumbering" (cp. the Old Swedish dvale,
sleep, unconscious condition). Their fates have made them the representatives of
death and sleep, a sort of equivalent of the Greek Thanatos and Hypnos.
In Hyndluljóð 7, the artists who made Frey's golden boar are called Dáinn and
Nabbi. In the Prose Edda (Skáldskaparmál 43) they are called Brokk and Sindri.
Thus we arrive at the following parallels:
Dáinn and Dvalinn made treasures together;
Brokk and Sindri made Frey's golden boar;
Dáinn and Nabbi made Frey's golden boar;
and the conclusion we draw from this is that in our mythology, in which there is
such a plurality of names, Dvalinn, Sindri, and Nabbi are the same person, and
that Dáinn and Brokk are identical. It should be noted that while Dáinn while is
found as the name for a grazing four-footed animal in Grímnismál 33, that
Brokkur too has a similar signification (See Vigfusson, Dictionary, where Brokkr
is defined as "trotter" i.e. a horse from the verb brokka, to trot, a word of
foreign origin). This may point to an original identity of these epithets.
Below, I will present further evidence of this identity.
It has already been demonstrated that Dvalinn is a son of Mimir. Sindri-Dvalin
and his kinsmen are therefore Mimir's offspring (Míms synir—Völuspá 45). The golden citadel
situated near the fountain of the maelstrom is therefore inhabited by the sons
According to Sólarljóð 56, the sons of Niði come toward Hel from this region
(from the north in Mimir's domain). They are seven in number, as are the
famous band of dwarves in Grimm's fairy-tales:
Norðan sá eg ríða
og voru sjö saman;
drukku þeir inn hreina mjöð
ór brunni Baugregins.
|From the North I saw ride
They were seven together;
from full horns,
the pure mead they drank
from the ring-maker's well.
The name Nidi appears three times in Völuspá, first in the dwarf-list (st. 11).
Völuspá 37 places the golden hall of the master-artist Sindri (who forged
Mjöllnir for Thor) on Nidavellir, "Nidi's plains". Nearby, it also locates the
"beer-hall" of the giant Brimir, an alternate name of both Ymir and his son
Mimir. In Völuspá 66, Nidhögg (the serpent mentioned along with the four harts
in Grímnismál 33) flies up from Nidafjöll ('Nidi's mountains'), the dividing
wall between Hel and Niflhel. As the ruler of this land, Mimir himself
must be Nidi, "the lower one".
In the same region Mimir's daughter Night has her hall, where
she takes her rest after her journey across the heavens is done. As
Mimir's son, Dvalin, "the sleeper," is Night's brother. Her citadel is
probably identical with the one in which Dvalin and his brothers sleep.
According to Saxo (Book 8), voices of women are heard in the
tabernaculum glittering with weapons and treasures, belonging to
men who sleep among weapons too large for those of human stature, when
Thorkil and his men come to plunder the treasures there. If not the
voices of Night and her sisters, then those of the wave-giantesses who
turn the great
World-Mill. Solarljóð 57 and 58 speak of these tormented women,
slaving near Hvergelmir under Yggdrasil's northern root.
Night has her court and her attendant sisters in the Germanic mythology,
the daughters of Gudmund-Mimir are said to be twelve in number. The
"sleeping castle" of Germanic mythology is therefore situated in Night's
Mimir, as we know, was the ward of the middle root of the
world-tree. His seven sons, representing the changes experienced by the
world-tree and nature annually, have with him guarded and tended the
holy tree and watered its root with aurgum forsi from the
subterranean horn, "Valfather's pledge.' [Völuspá
27 and 28]. When the
god-clans became foes, and the Vanir seized weapons against the Aesir,
Mimir was slain, and the world-tree, losing its wise guardian, became
subject to the influence of time. It suffers in crown and root
(Grímnismál), and as it is ideally identical with creation itself, both
the natural and the moral, so toward the close of the period of this
world it will exhibit the same dilapidated condition as nature and the
moral world then are to reveal.
Logic demanded that when the world-tree lost its chief ward,
the lord of the well of wisdom, it should also lose that care which
under his direction was bestowed upon it by his seven sons. These,
voluntarily or involuntarily, retired, and the story of the seven men
who sleep in the citadel full of treasures informs us how they
thenceforth spend their time until Ragnarok. The details of the myth
telling how they entered into this condition cannot now be found; but it
may be in order to point out, as a possible connection with this matter,
that one of the older Vanir, Njörd's father, and possibly the same as
Mundilfari, had the epithet Svafur, Svafurþorinn (Fjölsvinnsmál 8).
Svafur means sopitor, the sleeper, and Svafurþorinn seems to
refer to svefnþorn, "sleep-thorn." According to the traditions, a person
could be put to sleep by laying a "sleep-thorn" in his ear, and he then
slept until it was taken out or fell out, (Hrólfs saga kraka ok kappa
hans ch. 7 and in Fáfnismál 43).
Popular traditions scattered over Sweden, Denmark, and
Germany have to this very day been preserved, on the lips of the common
people, of the men sleeping among weapons and treasures in underground
chambers or in rocky halls. A Swedish tradition makes them equipped not
only with weapons, but also with horses which in their stalls abide the
day when their masters are to awake and sally forth. Common to the most
of these traditions, both the Northern and the German, is the feature
that this is to happen when the greatest distress is at hand, or when
the end of the world approaches and the day of judgment comes. Jakob
Grimm in his Deutsche Mythologie, chapter 32, discusses the various
legends of heroes sleeping in hills. Of special importance to the
subject under discussion, the popular tradition in certain parts of
Germany seems to have preserved a feature from the heathen myths. When
the heroes who have slept through centuries awake and come forth, the
trumpets of the last day sound and a great battle with the powers of
evil is imminent, an immensely old tree, which has withered, grows green
again, and a happier age begins. The same concepts are contained in the
Ragnarök sequence at the end of Völuspá.
This immensely old tree, which is withered at the close of the present
period of the world, and which is to become green again in a happier age
after a decisive conflict between the good and evil, can be no other
than the world-tree of Germanic mythology, the Yggdrasil of our Eddas.
The angel trumpets, at whose blasts the men who sleep within the
mountains sally forth, have their prototype in Heimdall's horn, which
proclaims the destruction of the world; and the battle to be fought is
the Ragnarök conflict, clad in Christian robes, between the gods and the
destroyers of the world.
Here Mimir's seven sons also have their task to perform. The
last great struggle also concerns the lower world, whose regions of
bliss demand protection against the thurs-clans of Niflhel, the more so
since these very regions of bliss constitute the new earth, which after
Ragnarok rises from the sea to become the abode of a better race of men.
The "wall rock" of the Hvergelmir fountain, known as Nidafjöll ("Nidi's
mountains') and its "stone gates" (Völuspá 48 - veggberg, steindyr)
require defenders able to wield those immensely large swords which are
kept in the sleeping castle on Night's native land, and Sindri-Dvalin is
remembered not only as the artist of antiquity, spreader of Mimir's
runic wisdom, enemy of Loki, and father of the man-loving dises, but
also as a hero. The name of the horse he rode, and probably is to ride
in the Ragnarök conflict, is, according to a strophe cited in
Skáldskaparmál 72, Móðinn.
This seems to underpin the sense of Völuspá 45:
Leika Míms synir,
en mjötuður kyndist
að inu gamla
hátt blæs Heimdallur,
horn er á lofti.
|"Mimir's sons spring up,
for the fate of the world
is proclaimed by the old
Loud blows Heimdall
-- the horn is raised."
We have previously seen the word leika associated with Mimir’s
son Dvalinn. Sol is his leika, play-thing. In regard to
leika, it is to be remembered that its older meaning, "to jump,"
"to leap," "to fly up," reappears not only in Ulfilas, who translates
skirtan of the New Testament with laikan. (Luke I. 41, 44, and
VI. 23; in the former passage in reference to the child slumbering in
Elizabeth's womb; the child "leaps" at her meeting with Mary), but also
in another passage in Völuspá, where it is said in regard to Ragnarok,
leikur hár hiti við himin sjálfan -- "high leaps" (plays) "the
fire against heaven itself." Further, we must point out the preterit
form kyndisk (from kynna, to make known) by the side of the present form
leika. This juxtaposition indicates that the sons of Mimir "rush
up," while the fate of the world, the final destiny of creation in
advance and immediately beforehand, was proclaimed "by the old
Gjallarhorn." The bounding up of Mimir's sons is the effect of the first
powerful blast. One or more of these follow: "Loud blows Heimdall -- the
horn is raised; and Odin speaks with Mimir's head." Thus we have found
the meaning of leika Míms synir. Their waking and appearance is one of
the signs best remembered in the chronicles in popular traditions of
Ragnarok's approach and the return of the dead, and in this strophe
Völuspá has preserved the memory of the "sleeping castle" of Germanic
Thus a comparison of the mythic fragments extant with the popular
traditions gives us the following outline of the Germanic myth
concerning the seven sleepers:
The world-tree -- the representative of the physical and moral laws of
the world -- grew in time's morning gloriously out of the fields of the
three world-fountains, and during the first epochs of the mythological
events (ár alda) it stood fresh and green, cared for by the
subterranean guardians of these fountains. But the times became worse.
Gullveig-Heid, spreads evil runes in Asgard and Midgard, and she causes
a dispute and war between those god-clans whose task it is to watch over
and sustain the order of the world in harmony. In the war between the
Aesir and Vanir, the middle and most important world-fountain -- the
fountain of wisdom, the one from which the good runes were drawn --
became robbed of its watchman. Mimir was slain, and his seven sons, the
superintendents of the seven seasons, who saw to it that these
season-changes followed each other within the limits prescribed by the
world-laws, were put to sleep, and fell into a stupor, which continues
throughout the historical time until Ragnarok. Consequently the
world-tree cannot help withering and growing old during the historical
age. Still it is not to perish. Neither fire nor sword can harm it; and
when evil has reached its climax, and when the present world is ended in
the Ragnarok conflict and in Surt's flames, then it is to regain that
freshness and splendor which it had in time's morning.
Until that time Sindri-Dvalin and Mimir's six other sons slumber in that
golden hall which stands toward the north in the lower world, on Mimir's
fields. Nott, their sister, dwells in the same region, and shrouds the
chambers of those slumbering in darkness. Standing toward the north
beneath the Nida mountains, the hall is near Hvergelmir's fountain,
which causes the famous maelstrom. As sons of Mimir, the great smith of
antiquity, the seven brothers were themselves great smiths of antiquity,
who, during the first happy epoch, gave to the gods and to nature the
most beautiful treasures (Mjölnir, Brisingamen, Gullinbursti, Draupnir).
The hall where they now rest is also a treasure-chamber, which preserves
a number of splendid products of their skill as smiths, and among these
are weapons, too large to be wielded by human hands, but intended to be
employed by the brothers themselves when Ragnarok is at hand and the
great decisive conflict comes between the powers of good and of evil.
The seven sleepers are there clad in splendid mantles of another cut
than those common among men. Certain mortals have had the privilege of
seeing the realms of the lower world and of inspecting the hall where
the seven brothers have their abode. But whoever ventured to touch their
treasures, or was allured by the splendor of their mantles to attempt to
secure any of them, was punished by the drooping and withering of his
When Ragnarok is at hand, the aged and abused world-tree
trembles, and Heimdall's trumpet, until then kept in the deepest shade
of the tree, is once more in the hand of the god, and at a
world-piercing blast from this trumpet Mimir's seven sons start up from
their sleep and arm themselves to take part in the last conflict. This
is to end with the victory of the good; the world-tree will grow green
again and flourish under the care of its former keepers; "all evil shall
then cease, and Baldur shall come back." The Germanic myth in regard to
the seven sleepers is thus most intimately connected with the myth
concerning the return of the dead Baldur and of the other dead men from
the lower world, with the idea of resurrection and the regeneration of
the world. It forms an integral part of the great epic of Germanic
mythology, and could not be spared. If the world-tree is to age during
the historical epoch, and if the present period of time is to progress
toward ruin, then this must have its epic cause in the fact that the
keepers of the chief root of the tree were severed by the course of
events from their important occupation. Therefore Mimir dies; therefore
his sons sink into the sleep of ages. But it is necessary that they
should wake and resume their occupation, for there is to be a
regeneration, and the world-tree is to bloom with new freshness.
Dvalinn is mentioned by the side of Dáinn both in Hávamál 143 and in
Grímnismál 33; also in the Fornaldarsagas, where they make treasures in
company. Both the names are clearly epithets which point to the mythic
destiny of the ancient artists in question. Dáinn means "the dead one,"
and in analogy with this we must interpret Dvalinn as "the dormant one,"
"the one slumbering" (cp. the Old Swedish dvale, sleep,
unconscious condition). Their fates have made them the representatives
of death and sleep, a sort of equivalent of the Greek Thanatos and
Hypnos. As such they appear in the allegorical strophes incorporated in
Grímnismál 33, which, describing how the world-tree suffers and grows
old, make Dáinn and Dvalinn, "death" and "slumber," get their food from
its branches, while Nidhogg and other serpents devour its roots.
From a 17th century mss. of the
AM 738 4to, Árni Magnússon Institute, Iceland.