The Speech of the Masked One
1962 Lee Hollander
The Lay of Grímnir


Like the foregoing poem, the "Grímnismál" has a didactic purpose, instruction in the mythology, the heavenly geography, and the nomenclature of the Northern Olympus.[1] (1) It is conveyed in Óthin's monologue, addressed first, as a reward, to young Agnar, who takes pity on his plight, and finally to his erstwhile favorite Geirrœth, to whom the god gradually reveals his dread identity. The epic framework has elements in common with a fairy story, still told in our days in northern Norway, of two brothers who sail to a monster-infested island where the one brother abandons the other to his fate in order to claim the kingdom for himself. And there is a striking similarity between the story of the rivalry of Óthin and his wife Frigg, as told in the Introductory Prose, and the legend about the origin of the Langobards as told in the Edict of their king, Rotharis (644 A.D.), and retold by the Langobardian monk and historian, Paulus Diaconus (ca. 800):


"The form of the narrative is very symptomatic. The reader is to gather that the old cotter has given Geirrœth the counsel to make away with his brother; from the conversation between Óthin and Frigg, that it was they who fostered the youths; again, that Frigg, in maligning Geirrœth as a miser had a double purpose---in the first place, to induce Óthin to visit the king whom by her emissary she renders hostile to the disguised god; in the second place, to destroy Geirrœth, since Óthin would of course not let his ill treatment go unavenged."[2]


The poem has suffered chiefly from accretions, which detract seriously from its aesthetic value: its monologic form no doubt tempted copyists to interpolate stray bits of lore----sometimes of great value-----which they were anxious to have preserved within its framework. For the most part, these differ in form from the otherwise regular ljodhahattr stanzas. There are no positive indications as to time of composition (tenth century?) or place of origin. Certainly the poem is archheathen. It is handed down completely both in the Codex Regius and the Hauksbok; and some twenty stanzas are embedded in Snorri's paraphrase in the "Gylfaginning."


      King Hrauthung had two sons, Agnar and Geirrœth.[3] Agnar was ten years old, Geirrœth eight. One day they were rowing in a boat with their tackle, to catch small fry, when the wind blew them out to sea. In the darkness of night they were dashed against the land. They made the shore and found a cotter. They stayed there that winter. The goodwife fostered Agnar, the goodman, Geirrœth and counseled him in shrewdness. In spring he got them a boat, and when he and his wife led them down to the shore he spoke secretly with Geirrœth. They had a fair wind and came to their father's landing place. Geirrœth was forward in the boat. He leapt out on shore and thrust the boat back into the sea and said, "Now go where all trolls may take thee!" Agnar drifted out to sea; but Geirrœth went up to the buildings. He was warmly welcomed, and as his father had died he was made a king and become a famous leader.


      One day, Óthin and Frigg were sitting in Hlithskjalf[4] and were looking out upon all the worlds. Then said Óthin: "Dost thou see Agnar, thy foster son, how he begets children with an ogress in a cave? But Geirrœth, my foster son, is king in the land." Frigg answered: "He is so grudging about his food[5] that he lets his guests die of hunger when he thinks too many have come." Óthin said that this was a gross lie, and so they laid a wager about this matter. Frigg sent her chambermaid Fulla to Geirrœth to tell him to beware lest he be bewitched by a warlock who was then come into the land. She told him that the warlock could be recognized by this, that no dog was so fierce as to rush at him. But it was evil slander, to say that King Geirrœth was not generous about his food. Yet he had that man taken captive whom his dogs would not set on. He was clad in a blue cloak and gave his name as Grimnir,[6] and said no more about himself though he was asked. The king tortured him to make him speak, by setting him between two fires; and there he sate for eight nights. Geirrœth had a son ten years old, who was named Agnar after his brother. Agnar went up to Grimnir and gave him a full horn to drink from and said that the king did ill to torture one who had done no wrong. Grimnir emptied it. By that time the fire had come so near him that his cloak began to burn.



               He said:


1. Hot art thou, blaze, and too high, withal!

Get, fire, thee farther away!

My frieze coat is singed though I flung it aloft,

flares up the fur in the flames.


2. Eight nights famished 'twixt the fires I sate,

nor did anyone fetch me food,

but Agnar only who after shall rule,

Geirrœth's son, o'er the Goths.[7]


3. All hail to thee, for happiness

is given thee, Agnar, by Óthin.

Better guerdon shalt never get

for one beaker of beer.


4. The land is holy which lies yonder,

near to Æsir and alfs;

in Thrúthheim,[8] there shall Thor ay dwell,

till draws nigh the doom of the gods.


5. On Ydal's[9] plains Ull hath reared him

his hall timbered on high.

For Frey's[10] tooth-fee was fashioned of yore

Alf-Home, as gift by the gods.


6. A third hall still, all thatched with silver,

was built by the blessed gods:

in Válaskjalf[11] hall did house himself

Óthin in olden days.


7. Sokkvabekk[12] called is the fourth, which cool waters

ripple round about;

there Óthin and Saga[13] all their days drink,

glad from golden cups.


8. Gladhome is hight the fifth where golden shimm'ring

Valholl [14] is widely spread out;

here Óthin chooses every day

weapon-slain warriors.


9. Easily known to Ygg's chosen

are the heavenly halls:

the rafters, spearshafts; the roofs, shield-shingled;

and the benches strewn with byrnies.


10. Easily known to Ygg's chosen

are the heavenly halls:

a wolf hangeth o'er the western gate,

and hovers an eagle on high.[15]


11. Thrymheim[16] is hight the sixth,

where Thjatsi dwelled,

the etin of awful might;


Njorth's bride there her bower hath,

Skathi[17]  where her father before.


12. Breithablik[18] the seventh; there Baldr the good

hath reared him his bright abode:

in that land it lies where least I know

falsehood and faithlessness.


13. Himinbjorg[19] the eighth; there Heimdall, they say,

guards the holy hall;

there the gods' warder in goodly stead

the mead drinks, glad in mind.


14. Folkvang[20] the ninth, where Freya[21] chooses

who seats shall have in her hall:

half of the slain are hers each day,

and half are Óthin's own.


15. Glitnir[22] the tenth, which with gold is propped,

and is shingled with shining silver;

there Forseti[23] unflagging sits,

the god that stills all strife.


16. Nóatún[24] the eleventh, where Njorth hath him

reared his bright abode;

the sinless god his seat there has

and rules in high-timbered hall.


17. Greenwoods grow, and grasses tall,

in Víthi,[25] Víthar's land:

from horseback leaps the hero, eager

to avenge his father's fall.


18. By Andhrímnir[26] in Eldhrímnir[27]

Sæhrímnir,[28] the boar, is boiled,

the best of bacons; though 'tis barely known

what the einherjar[29] eat.


19. Valfather feeds Freki and Geri[30]

on the flesh of the fallen;

but weapon-glad Óthin on wine only

lives forever and ay.


20. The whole earth over, every day,

hover Hugin and Munin,[31]

I dread lest Hugin droop in his flight,

yet I fear me still more for Munin.


21. Thund[32] roars loudly; sports Thjóthvitnir's

fish[33] in the foaming flood;

the strong stream seems too stiff to wade

for warriors to Valholl bent.


22. Valgrind[34] is the gate that wards the gods,

holy, nigh holy doors;

old is that wicket, nor wot many

with what bolt that gate is barred.


23. Five hundred rooms and forty withal

I ween that in Bilskirnir[35] be;

of all the halls which on high are reared

the greatest I see is my son's.


24. Five hundred doors and forty withal

I ween that in Valholl be:

eight hundred warrior through one door hie them

when they fare forth to fight the Wolf.[36]


25. Heithrún, the goat on the hall that stands,

eateth off Læráth's[37] limbs;

the crocks she fills with clearest mead,

will that drink not e'er be drained.


26. Eikthyrnir,[38] the hart on the hall that stands,

eateth off Læráth's limbs;

drops from his horns in Hvergelmir (39) fall,

thence wend all the waters their way.


39. A well at the foot of Yggdrasil.


27. [39][Síth and Víth, Sœkin and Eikin,

Svol and Gunnthró, Fjorm and Fimbulthul,

Rín and Rinnandi,

Gipul and Gopul, Gomul and Geirvimul,

they flow by the garth of the gods;

Thyn and Vin, Tholl and Holl,

Gráth and Gunnthorin.


28. Vína is hight one, Vegsvinn the other,

the third, Thjóthnuma;

Nyt and Not, Nonn and Hronn,

Slíth and Hrith, Sylg and Ylg,

Vil and Van, Vond and Strond,

Gjoll and Leiptr, flow in the land of men,

but hence flow to Hel.]


29. Kormt and Ormt and the Kerlaugs twain,

Thor does wade through

every day, to doom when he fares

'neath the ash Yggdrasil;

for the bridge of the gods[40] is ablaze with flames—

hot are the holy waters.


30.  [41][Glath and Gyllir, Gler and Skeithbrimir,

Silfrintopp and Sinir,

Gísl and Falhófnir, Golltopp and Lettfeti—

these steeds ride heavenly hosts

every day, to the doom when they fare

'neath the ash Yggdrasil.]


31. Three roots do spread in threefold ways

beneath the ash Yggdrasil:

dwell etins 'neath one, 'neath the other, Hel,

'neath the third; Mithgarth's[42] men.


32. [43](An eagle sitteth on Yggdrasil's limbs,

whose keen eyes widely ken;

'twixt his eyes a fallow falcon is perched,

hight Vethrfolnir, and watcheth.)


33. Ratatosk[44] the squirrel is hight which runneth ay

about the ash Yggdrasil:

the warning words of the watchful eagle

he bears to Níthhogg[45] beneath.


34. [46][Four harts also the highest shoots[47]

ay gnaw from beneath:

Dáin and Dvalin,[48] Duneyr and Dyrathror.]


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[49] ay, I fear me,

on that tree's twigs will batten.]


36. The ash Yggdrasil doth ill abide,

more than to men is known:

the hart browsing above, its bole rotting,

and Níthhogg gnawing beneath.


37. Hrist and Mist the horn shall bear me,

Skeggjold and Skogul;

but Hild and Thruth, Hlokk and Herfjotur,

Goll and Geironul,

Randgrith and Ráthgrith and Reginleif,[50]

to the einherjar ale shall bear.


38. Árvakr and Alsvith,[51] they up shall draw

the sun's wain wearily;

but under their bellies the blessed gods

have hidden the "icy irons."[52]

39. Svalin[53] is hight, the Sun before,

a shield from the shining god,

Would smoke and smolder both sea and land,

if from him it ever should fall.


40. Skoll the wolf, in the sky dogs him

to the warding woods;[54]

but Hati[55] the others, Hrothvitnir's son,

follows the fair orb too.


41. Of Ymir's[56] flesh the earth was shaped,

of his blood, the briny sea,

of his hair, the trees, the hills of his bones,

out of his skull the sky.


42. But of his lashes the loving gods made

Mithgarth for sons of men;

from his brow they made the menacing clouds

which in the heavens hover.


43. Will Ull[57] befriend him, and all the gods,

who first the fire quenches;

for open lie to the Æsir all worlds,

when kettles are heaved from the hearth.[58]


44. [In earliest times Ivaldi's sons[59]

Skithblathnir, the ship, did shape,

the best of boats, for beaming Frey,

the noble son of Njorth.]


45. [The ash Yggdrasil is of all trees best;

Skithblathnir, the best of boats;

of holy gods, Óthin; of horses, Sleipnir;[60]

of bridges, Bifrost;[61] of skalds, Bragi;[62]

of hawks, Habrok;[63] of hounds all, Garm.][64]


46. Now my looks have I lifted aloft to the gods:[65]

help will come from on high,

from all the Æsir which in shall come

on Ægir's benches,

at Ægir's feast.[66]


47. Grím[67] is my name, and Gangleri,[68]

Herjan[69] and Hjálmberi,[70]

Thekk[71] and Thrithi,[72] Thuth and Uth,

Helblindi and Hár. [73]


48. Sath[74] and Svipal[75] and Sanngetal,[76]

Herteit[77] and Hnikar,[78]

Bileyg,[79] Báleyg,[80] Bolverk,[81] Fjolnir,[82]

Grím and Grímnir, Glapsvith, Fjolsvith,


49. Síthhott,[83] Síthskegg,[84] Sigfather,[85] Hnikuth,[86]

Alfather,[87] Valfather,[88] Atríth,[89] Farmatýr:[90]

by one name was I not welcomed ever,

since among folk I fared.


50. Grímnir my name in Geirrœth's hall,

but Jálk in Ásmund's.

Was I Kjalar hight when the hand sled I drew,

but Thrór[91] at Things,

Vithur in wars,

Óski and Ómi, Jafnhar, Biflindi,

Gondlir[92] and Hárbarth[93] among gods.


51. Svithur and Svithrir[94] at Sokkmimir's was I,

when the old etin I hid,

and when Mithvitnir's, the mighty one's,

son I slew alone.


52. Thou art muddled, Geirrœth! Too much thou has drunk;

of much art robbed since rashly thou losest

Óthin's and the einherjars' favor.


53. Full long I spake, but little thou mindest:

faithless friends[95] betray thee:

before me I see my foster son's sword,

its blade all dripping with blood.


54. A death-doomed man will soon drink with Ygg:[96]

not long the life left thee.

The norns wish thee ill: now Óthin mayst see;

come thou near if thou canst.[97]


55. Now Óthin's my name. Ygg was I hight,

Thund was my name ere then;

Vak[98] and Skilfing, Váfuth[99] and Hroptatýr,[100]

Gaut[101] and Jalk among gods.

Ofnir[102] and Svafnir,[103] they all have become

one with me, I ween.


King Geirrœth was sitting with his sword on his knees half unsheathed. But when he heard that it was Óthin who had come to him, he arose and wanted to take him from between the fires. His sword slid from his hands with its hilt downward. The king stumbled and fell forward, the sword pierced him, and so he lost his life. Then Óthin vanished; but Agnar was king in that land for a long time.

[1] Some scholars, to be sure, see in the poem an Óthin monologue of great impressiveness, with no breaks in its unity----one which originally had nothing to do with the King Geirroeth motif.

[2] Detter and Heinzel II, 172.

[3] "Spear-Peace" (?), that is, peace gained by the spear.

[4] "Hall of Gates" or "Gate-Tower," Óthin's seat in Valholl. "When he seats himself in the high-seat he can see all the world and the doings of every man" ("Gylfaginning," Chap. 8).

[5] A cardinal sin in a king, according to Old Norse conceptions.

[6] "The Masked One," Óthin. He is frequently pictured as concealing his countenance by a wide cowl.

[7] Here, as frequently, used in a general and honorific sense for "warriors."

[8] "Land of Strength."

[9] "Yew Dales." Ull, "Glorious," is the god of archery. His weapon, the longbow, was made out of the yew. He is, possibly, a hypostasis of Óthin, or of Tyr, the god of war.

[10] "Lord." He is the god of fertility and prosperity. Like Njorth (see "Vafþrúðnismál," Sts. 38-39), his father, he is said to be of Van origin. The "tooth-fee" is a gift to an infant when he cuts his first tooth.

[11] "Hall of Slain Warriors" (?). the first of Óthin's three halls.

[12] "Sunken Hall" (?). Compare with Fensalir in "Völuspá," St. 33.

[13] "Seeress," Frigg. The name is etymologically connected, but not identical, with the Norse word for "history", story."

[14] "Hall of Slain Warriors." See Valaskjalf, in St. 6 above, and, "Vafþrúðnismál," Sts. 40-41.

[15] Wolf and eagle, as scavengers of the battlefield, are symbolic of Óthin's warlike activities. Their carved images adorn the gable ends of his hall.

[16] "Noise-Home."

[17] "Scathe." She is Thjatsi's daughter and Njorth's wife. See also "Hábarzljóð," St. 19, and "Lokasenna," St. 50.

[18] "The Far-Shining"; properly the seat of Baldr, the god of innocence, justice, and light.

[19] "Heavenly Mountains." Concerning Heimdall, see "Völuspá," St. 1, note.

[20] "Battlefield."

[21] "Mistress," "Queen" (feminine of Frey), the goddess of love. She is the daughter of Njorth and the sister of Frey.

[22] "Shining."

[23] "The Presiding One," son of Baldr and Nanna.

[24] "Shipstead," "harbor."

[25] "Wide land" (?). As to Vithar, see "Völuspá," St. 53.

[26] "Sooty in the Face," the cook of Valholl.

[27] "Sooty from the Fire," the kettle.

[28] "Sooty Black." (?)

[29] See "Vafþrúðnismál," St. 41.

[30] Both names signify "the Greedy One." They are Óthin's two wolves.

[31] "Thought" and "Remembrance," Óthin's ravens which bring him intelligence.

[32] "The Noisy"(?), a river probably thought to flow around Valholl.

[33] "The Great Wolf," Fenrir, his "fish," is possibly the Mithgarth Serpent. But the whole stanza presents great difficulty.

[34] "The Gate of the Battle-Slain."

[35] Of uncertain meaning. It is the hall of Thor, who is a son of Óthin.

[36] Fenrir. See "Lokasenna," and "Völuspá," St. 52.

[37] Læráth seems to be identified with the tree Yggdrasil, which suffers other harm. See Sts. 26 and 33 ff.

[38] "Oak Antlers" (?).

[39] The following catalog of rivers is plainly interpolated. Their names refer, some to swiftness, others to coldness and depth. For Leiptr, see "Helgakvidð Hundingsbana" II, St. 30.

[40] Bifrost, "The Quaking Bridge" (see St. 45). The bearing of the passage is not clear.

[41] The catalog of steeds likewise is interpolated. Their names refer to speed, bright appearance, and similar qualities.

[42] "Middle World" or "The Enclosure."

[43] This stanza is lacking in the original. We are able to reconstruct it from Snorri's close paraphrase ("Gylfaginning," Chap. 15). The eagle and the falcon possibly symbolize the watchfulness of the gods.

[44] "Rat Tusk."

[45] See "Völuspá." The dragon is here conceived as gnawing the roots of Yggdrasil. See St. 36.

[46] The following two stanzas are very likely interpolations.

[47] Conjecturally.

[48] These are, rather, dwarf names.

[49] 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.

[50] The names of the valkyries indicate their warlike activities, like those of "Völuspá," St. 30.

[51] "Early-Awake" and "Very Swift," the sun horses. See "Vafþrúðnismál," St. 12, and "Sigrdrífumál," St. 17.

[52] Snorri, in his "Gylfaginning," Chap. 10, has the following prosy explanation of these: "Under their shoulders the gods placed two bellows to cool them, and in some lays these are called 'icy irons' " (?).

[53] "Cooling."

[54] This passage, as well as the following, is of doubtful meaning.

[55] "Hater," the son of Hrothvitnir, "the Famous Wolf," that is, Fenrir (who according to "Vafþrúðnismál," St. 46-47, himself swallows the sun).

[56] See "Vafþrúðnismál," St. 21.

[57] See St. 5 and note.

[58] The words of the second part of the stanza seem clear, but their meaning has so far resisted convincing explanation.

[59] According to "Gylfaginning," Chap. 42, they are skilful dwarfs who make a present of the ship Skíthblathnir, "the Thin-Planked," to Frey. "It is so large that all the gods may find room in it with all their equipment." Also, it has a favorable breeze whenever its sail is raised, and can sail both on sea and over land. It may be laid together like a cloth and put in one's pocket. Stanzas 44 and 45 are evidently interpolated.

[60] "The Runner," Óthin's horse. It has eight feet. According to the story in "Gylfaginning," Chap. 41, it was begotten on Loki by the stallion of the giant who built the wall around Asgarth. See "Völuspá," St. 25, and "Völuspá hin skamma," St. 12.

[61] See St. 29, note.

[62] The god of poetry and eloquence. Bragr signifies "poetry." It is uncertain whether Bragi Boddason (ninth century), the first skald whose name and verses have come down to us, was the prototype of the god.

[63] "High-Leg."

[64] See "Völuspá," St. 43.

[65] The translation here offered is somewhat of a guess, no interpretation being altogether acceptable.

[66] As in the "Hymiskviða," St. 1.

[67] Grim is short for Grimnir (see the Prose above.) A number of the following names cannot be satisfactorily explained.

[68] "The Way-Weary."

[69] "War God" (?).

[70] "Helm-Bearer."

[71] "The Welcome One."

[72] "The Third," (with Har, below, and Jafnhar in St. 50). This trinity seems to betray Christian influence.

[73] "One-Eyed"; but, as evidenced by Jafnhar, "Equally High" (St. 50), the name was set at an early time confused with the homonymous word meaning "high."

[74] "The Truthful."

[75] "The Changeable."

[76] "Truthfinder."

[77] "Glad in Battle."

[78] "[Spear-] Thruster."

[79] "One-Eyed."

[80] "Fiery-Eyed."

[81] "Bale Worker."

[82] "The Concealer."

[83] "Long Hood."

[84] "Long Beard."

[85] "Victory Father."

[86] . "[Spear-] Thruster."

[87] "Father of All."

[88] "Father of the Battle-Slain."

[89] "Attacker by Horse."

[90] "Lord of Boatloads." This epithet shows Óthin in his role (historically earlier) as god of the merchants. Compare with Mercury-Hermes with whom he shares other important characteristics.

[91] "Inciter to Strife" (?).See "Hárbarzljóð," St. 24.

[92] "Bearer of the [Magic] Wand."

[93] "Graybeard."

[94] Both epithets signify "the Wise."

[95]  Probably Frigg and her minion who, we are to understand, had made Geirrœth go counter to Óthin's instruction, given him the time he was fostered by the god, to be hospitable to guests.

[96] That is, in Óthin's (Ygg's) hall.

[97] After these words Óthin probably vanishes as, in a similar situation, he vanishes in the hall of King Heithreck, Hervarar saga, Chap. 9. The last stanza, which botches this excellent ending, is no doubt a later addition.

[98] "Wakeful."

[99] "Wayfarer."

[100] "God of Gods."

[101] "The God of Goths"; that is, of men (?).

[102] "The Entangler," that is, in questions (see the translation for Vaþrúthnir, in "Vafþrúðnismál," Note 1).

[103] "He Who Lulls to Sleep or to Dreams."