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:

Ormar fleiri liggja
vndr aski Yggdrasils,
en þat vf hyggi hverr ósviþra apa:
Goinn ok moinn,
þeir ero grafvitnis synir,
grabakr ok grafvolluþr,
opnir ok svafnir,
hygg ek, at æ scyli
meiþs qvisto má.

Ormar fleiri liggja
vnd aski Yggdrasils,
en þat of hyggi hverr ósvinnra apa:
goinn ok moinn,
þeirro Grafvitnis synir,
grabakr ok grafvolluþr,
ofnir ok svafnir,
hygg ek, at æ scyli
meiþs kvistv má.

34. Ormar fleiri liggja
und aski Yggdrasils,
en þat of hyggi hverr ósviðra apa:
Góinn ok Móinn,
þeir ro Grafvitnis synir,
Grábakr ok Grafvölluðr,
Ófnir ok Sváfnir,
hygg ek, at æ skyli
meiðs kvistu má.

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
Beneath the autumnal leaves that spread
The ground below the forest's head,
More hissing serpents daily glide,
Than e'er unwary Apa
Grafvitner's sons are long decreed,
Daily on the Ash to feed.

[1] APA, Apes.


Few can number the serpents that lie beneath
The tree of ages; Goinn and Moinn, the sons
Of Grafvitner are there, and other four
Whose fate-allotted task it is to waste
Forever its branches, shooting forever anew.

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
  34. More serpents lie
under Yggdrasil’s ash,
than any one would think
of witless mortals:
Goin and Moin
-they are Grafvitnir’s sons -
Grabak and Grafvöllud,
Ofnir and Svafnir,
will, I ween,
the branches of that tree
ever lacerate.

More serpents lie under the ash Ygg's-steed than any foolish ape can know: Goin and Moin the sons of Grave-wolf, Greyback and Gravedigger, O. and S., I know will for ever be boring at the roots of the tree.

1908 Olive Bray
in Edda Saemundar
The Sayings of Grimnir
1923 Henry Bellows
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir

34. More serpents lie under Yggdrasil's ash
than a witless fool would ween
Goin and Moin, the offspring of Grave-monster,
Grey-back and Grave-haunting worm,
Weaver and Soother, I ween they must ever
rend the twigs of the tree.

34. More serpents there are   beneath the ash
Than an unwise ape would think;
Goin and Moin,     Grafvitnir’s sons,
Grabak and Grafvolluth,
Ofnir and Svafnir    shall ever, methinks,
Gnaw at the twigs of the tree.

[1] Nothing further is known of any of the serpents here listed, and the meaning of many of the names is conjectural. Editors have altered it in various ways in an attempt to regularize the metre.

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

35. [More worms do lie the world-tree beneath
than unwise apes may ween:
Góin and Móin, which are Grafvitnir's sons,
Grabak and Grafvolluth;
Ofnir and Sváfnir
[1] ay, I fear me,
on that tree's twigs will batten.]

[1] Several of these names have reference to the burrowing activities of worms and snakes. The last two are names of Óthin; see St. 55 and note.

34. Under Yggdrasil hide more serpents
Than dull apes dream of:
Goin and Moin, Grafvitnir's sons,
[missing line]
Sleepbringer, Unraveler, shall bite off
Twigs of that tree for ever.

1996 Carolyne Larrington
in The Poetic Edda
Grimnir’s Sayings
2011 Ursula Dronke
in The Poetic Edda, Vol. III: Mythological Poems 
“The Lay of Grimnir”
  34. More serpents lie under the ash of Yggdrasill
than any fool can imagine:
Goin and Moin, they are Grafvitnir's sons,
Grabak and Grafvollud,
Ofnir and Svafnir I think for ever will
bite on the tree's branches.

34. More worms are a-bed
beneath Yggdrasill’s Ash than
any dimwit dunce may dream of:
Soil Worm and Heath Worm —
they are sons of Grave Wolf—
Grey Back and Grave Digger,
Twister and Killer—
I think they will for ever erode
the twigs of the tree.

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

34. ‘More serpents lie under the ash Yggdrasil
than any dumb blockhead can believe;
Góin and Móin —Grafvitner’s sons—
Grey-back and Grafvöllud;
Ofnir and Sváfnir, I reckon must always
bite on the branches of the tree.


This stanza is quoted in Gylfaginning 16 (A. Broedur Translation):

Svá er enn sagt:
Ormar fleiri liggja
und aski Yggdrasils
en þat of hyggi hverr ósviðra apa.
Góinn ok Móinn,
þeir eru Grafvitnis synir,
Grábakr ok Grafvölluðr,
Ófnir ok Sváfnir,
hygg ek, at æ myni
meiðs kvistum má.

And it is further said:

More serpents lie       
under Yggdrasill's stock
Than every unwise ape can think:
Góinn and Móinn
(they're Grafvitnir's sons),
Grábakr and Grafvölludr;
Ófnir and Sváfnir       I think shall aye
Tear the trunk's twigs.
Following the four harts who feed on the limbs of the tree, the poet names seven serpents who feed on its roots. Their names have been translated in the following manner:

Grímnismál 33: 1871 Bergmann 1883 Vigfusson 1908 Bray 1923 Bellows 1967 Auden/
2011 Dronke
Góinn: Of-Earth
        Soil Worm
Móinn: Of-Clay
        Heath Worm
Grafvitnir: Presages-of-
Grave-wolf Grave-monster "gnawing wolf"   Grave Wolf
Grábakr: Gray-Back
Greyback Grey-back "Gray-back"   Grey Back
Grafvölluðr: Gray-Skin
Gravedigger Grave-haunting "Field-Gnawer"   Grave Digger
Ófnir: Blazing
  Weaver "Bewilderer"  *Sleepbringer Twister
Sváfnir: Making-drowsy
  Soother "Sleep-Bringer" *Unraveler Killer

*Note: Auden and Taylor appear to have reversed the two names they translate (Ófnir and Sváfnir) in their edition.
In regard to this verse, Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda III (2011), states:

"A myriad of voracious worms, with deathly names, are eating away the tree's branches incessantly."

The serpents, when treated allegorically are most often interpreted as forces of death and decay.

All of these, except Grafvölluðr, appear in a nafnaþulur (name-list) of serpent-heiti  in Skáldskaparmál.
Most of their names appear in kennings of the type which call gold "a serpent's resting place" (i.e. its 'bed', 'pillow', 'seat', 'ground', etc). Nothing is known of them otherwise.

Niddhögg, named in Grímnismál 33 and 35, is the only mythological serpent assigned to Yggdrasil's roots that we learn of elsewhere (Völuspá 37 and 66). That and the broken meter of this stanza have lead some scholars to consider it an interpolation, in whole or part. Of it, Henry Bellows Adams (1923) writes:

"Nothing further is known of any of the serpents here listed, and the meaning of many of the names is conjectural. Editors have altered it in various ways in an attempt to regularize the metre."

"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. Snorri [p. 98] closely paraphrases stanza 33, but without elaboration, and nothing further is known of the four harts. It may be guessed, however, that they are a late multiplication of the single hart mentioned in stanza 26, just as the list of dragons in stanza 34 seems to have been expanded out of Nithhogg, the only authentic dragon under the root of the ash."

In Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia (1988), Jeffrey A. Mazo observes:

"The number and selection of wisdom stanzas undoubtedly varied among oral performances of the poem, but there is no reason to discard stanzas as interpolations or to treat the extant written text as anything other than a coherent whole."
Góinn and Móinn, Grafvitnir's sons
Sveinbjörn Egilsson in his Lexicon Poeticum (1932) translates the first two names as follows:

Góinn: "he who burrows himself into the earth" from go- = German gau.
Móinn: "one who lives on the Moor"

The names Góinn and  gest-Móin appear in a nafnaþulur of sword-heiti in Skáldskaparmál.  Góinn may also be used as a sword name, if ginninn is read as Góinn in HolmgB 5—(see Egilsson's Lexicon Poeticum s.v. Göinn), then Göinn's hurð is a shield, its wolf is a sword.

Göinn's name in used in kennings for gold:
Göinn's völlur, HolmgB 8
Göinn's leiti, SnE II 198
Göinn's sker, stett Egils. 3, 12, 18.
 Krákumál 27 contains the expression Góinn byggvir sal hjarta "Góinn dwells in the hall's heart".

Móinn's name also appears in kennings for gold:

Móin's jörð, Ólsv 5, Nj 21
Móin's storð, Pl 18
Móins akr, Óð 21;
Móins sætti, Hl 18 b
Móins moerr, Árni 2, 2
Móins leið, Grettis. 11

Móinsheimar, "Móin's home", occurs as the name of a battle-field in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, 46, and II, 24.
Móinn is also the name of a horse in a nafnaþular, according to Egilsson.

Grafvitnir is one of three names in Grímnismál ending with the suffix -vitnir. The other two are Þjóðvitnir in Grímnismal 21 (of Heimdall, or perhaps Fenrir) and Hróðvitnir in Grímnismál 39 (of the wolf Hati's father) .

"Vitnir" means "wolf", but the etymology of the word shows it to be related to the word "vit" = "sense, senses". Magnússon's Etymological Dictionary states that the original meaning of the word is "one with sharp senses".

 Sveinbjörn Egilsson in his Lexicon Poeticum (1932) translates Grafvitnir as "burrowing- or grave-wolf", noting that the kenning beðr Grafvitnis, "Grafvitnir's bed" means gold, ESk 11, 6.

Gold is referred to as dúni Grafvitnis, 'Grafvitnir's pillow', in a list of gold-kennings from a stanza of the poem Bjarkamál, preserved in Skáldskaparmál.
Grábakr and Grafvölluðr
Grábakr: "grey back",
Grafvölluðr: "he who burrows down into the ground"

Grábakr is also used of a serpent in  Óð. 21
 Sváfnir and Ófnir
The Cleasby-Vigfusson Dictionary makes a single contribution to our study:

"Svafnir, m. [svefja], a sleep-maker, soother, Lat. sopitor."

Sveinbjörn Egilsson in his Lexicon Poeticum (1932) translates the names as follows:

Ófnir: "weaver" (?)
Sváfnir : "the one who lulls to sleep"

Ófnir and Sváfnir are also found as names of Odin in Grímnismál 54/7.

In the sense of a snake-name, 'Ófnis jörd' and 'ýtis Ófnis jardar' are kennings for gold found in Sigv 5, 8. The kenning 'mars Ófnis' in Ragn VI, 2 refers to a ship.
Used as a name of Odin, 'ýseims Ófnir' is a kenning for war VGl 4.
As a kenning for sword,  'sónar Ófnir' in Isldr. 5 probably refers to the serpent, rather than Odin.  

Sváfnir is used as a name of Odin in Vegtamskviða 3 and in Gylfaginning 2.  
Sváfnirs sal, "Svafnir's hall", refers to Valhöll in Harv 11
Sváfnir is also the name of a legendary king, the eponym of the kingdom Svavaland (Helgakviða Hjörvarðsson, prose). Sváfnis dóttur, "Svafnir's daughter", Sigrlinn is the wife of King Hjörvarð in Helgakviða Hjörvarðsson 1 and 5.

When referring to a serpent, the kenning Svafnis látr in Grett 2, 9 refers to gold; as does Svafnis bryggva in  d.s. Gd 16 (cf. Bugge). Fjör-svafnir is the name of a sword in Nj.
The key to the abbreviations in these references can be found on pages xiii-xvi '[13, 14, 15, 16] of
Sveinbjørn Egilsson's Lexicon Poeticum, under forkortelser, 'abbreviations'.