The Poetic Edda: A Study Guide
The Sibyl's Prophecy
|R 34/ H 30|
|This verse appears in variant form in the two sources, Codex Regius and Hauksbók. Each contains the same last half-strophe, but each has a unique first half. In most translations, the Hauksbók variant of the first half-strophe is omitted.|
Codex Regius 34
MS No. 2365 4to [R]
AM 544 4to [H]
Hapt sa hon
Þa kna vala
Þá kná Vála
|Selected English Translations|
1865 Benjamin Thorpe
“The Vala's Prophecy
She saw the bound one
Lying under the grove of the Huns
The perfidious funeral.
One like Lok.
There sat as Sigynia
Never dear to her husband.
Know you more? What is it?
38. Bound she saw lying, under Hveralund,
a monstrous form, to Loki like.
There sits Sigyn, for her consort’s sake,
not right glad. Understand ye yet, or what?
39. Then the Vala knew
the fatal bonds were twisting,
most rigid, bonds from entrails made.
In Thorpe’s translation above, he interprets the word “Vala” to mean Vala, rather than Vali, Loki’s son who is turned into a wolf.
1870 William Morris
The Prophecy of the Vala
1883 Gudbrand Vigfusson
Corpus Poeticum Boreale
35. Then might the Vala
36. Bound there she saw lie
I behold a captive lying under Cauldron-holt, the bodily semblance of Loki the guileful. There Sigyn sits, sad of heart, over her husband.— Know ye yet or what?
1888 Henry Morely
1905 Ananda K. Coomaraswarmy
“The Sibyl's Sayings”
Then knew the Vala
36. She sees how he was bound
Like the bad Loki.
There sits Sigyn,
She saw in fetters one
in the likeness of Loki the guileful
There Sigyn sits,
that small glee hath, beside her mate.
More would ye.wit of and what?
1908 Olive Bray
“The Soothsaying of the Vala”
1923 Henry Bellows
“The Wise Woman's Prophecy”
one like the form of guile-loving Loki.
And there sat Sigyn, yet o'er her husband
rejoicing little. Would ye know further, and what?
I know that Vali his brother gnawed,
With his bowels then was Loki bound.
35.One did I see in the wet woods bound,
A lover of ill, and to Loki like;
By his side does Sigyn sit, nor is glad
To see her mate: would you know yet more?
1962 Lee M. Hollander
“The Prophecy of the Seeress”
1996 Carolyne Larrington
“The Seeress' Prophecy”
With meshes mighty made the gods then
Girding fetters out of Vali’s guts.
A captive lies in the kettle-grove,
Like to lawless Loki in shape;
There sits Sigyn, full sad in mind,
By her fettered mate: know ye further, or how?
34. Then oppressive bonds were twisted
Rather severe fetters, made of Vali’s entrails.
35. She saw a captive
lying under the grove of hot springs,
that evil-loving form, Loki, she recognized;
there sits Sigyn, not at all happy about her husband
— do you understand yet, or what more?
1997 Ursula Dronke
2011 Andy Orchard
'The Prophecy of the Seeress"
Then did Vali
Slaughter bonds twist
Made fairly grim
Were those fetters of gut
34. A captive she saw lying
under the Cauldron’s Grove,
in the shape of malignant
There Sigyn sits,
surely with little
delight in her husband.
The Vali's war-bonds were woven
—rather hard were the bonds—out of his own guts.
35. She saw a prisoner prostrate under Kettle-grove,
in the likeness of Loki, ever eager for harm;
there sits Sigyn, over her husband,
but she feels little glee, do you know yet or what?
This verse appears in variant form in the two sources, Codex Regius and Hauksbók. Each contains the same last half-strophe, but each has a unique first half of the verse:
Ursula Dronke, Poetic Edda, Vol. II, p. 76:
The interpolated lines in H appear to have a scribal error, as no nominative subject is expressed. This is usually emended:
Váli is well known in Eddic tradition as son of Odin, avenger of Baldr, killer of Höðr, survivor with Vidar in the new world after Ragnarök. Nowhere except in H, is he said to have placed the bonds upon Loki, but as he was begotten expressly to avenge Baldr, it is logical enough that the binding of Loki should be attributed to him.
…Snorri, on the other hand, has found the lines
interesting. Out of them he has invented a new son for Loki, Vali
Lokasson. He appears to have interpreted the H text
Vala vigbönd as ‘bonds from
Vali’s act of slaughter’, since he relates that Vali Lokasson was
changed into a wolf by the Aesir and straightaway tore apart his brother
Narfi. The Aesir used Narfi’s intestines as bonds for Loki (SnE 69). The
story is found in variant form in the prose epilogue to
Lokasenna, but without
reference to Vali.
Viktor Rydberg, Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Vol I, no. 87 (1886):
In Snorri’s Edda we find the names Narvi and Vali used for Loki’s sons. One son (Vali or Ali, but on occasion called Nari) is turned into a wolf and slays the other son (Narvi or Nari), whose guts are then used as material to bind their father, Loki. In the Old Norse poetic sources, however, Narvi is the father of Night; and Vali is the son of Odin, born to avenge his brother Balder. Can we get to the bottom of this?
Nat (Night) is the daughter of a being whose name has many forms.
All these variations are derived from the same original designation, related to the Old Norse verb njörva, the Old English nearwian, meaning "the one that binds," "the one who puts on tight-fitting bonds."
The circumstance that Narvi is Nat's father proves that he must have occupied one of the most conspicuous positions in the Teutonic cosmogony. In all cosmogonies and theogonies Night is one of the oldest beings, older than light, without which it cannot be conceived.. The being which is Night's father must therefore be counted among the oldest in the cosmogony. According to Snorri’s account in Gylfaginning 10, the personified representatives of water (Auð) and earth (Jörð), like the day (Dag), are the children of Narvi’s daughter.
What Gylfaginning 10 tells of Narvi is that he was of giant birth, and the first one who inhabited Jötunheim (Nörvi eða Narfi hét jötunn, er byggði fyrst Jötunheima - Gylfaginning 10). In Gylfaginning and in the Icelandic sagas, the lower world, including the regions governed by Mimir and by the norns who are of giant descent,. is embraced by the term Jötunheim, and this for mythical reasons. Niflheim is inhabited by Hrim-thurses (Frost-giants) and giants. As the father of Nat (Night), Narvi himself must belong to that group of powers that populated the lower world.. The upper Jotunheim did not exist before it was created simultaneously with Midgard by Odin and his brothers (Gylfaginning) in a later epoch of cosmological development. Thus, the lower world (the first world) was their original home
To judge from certain passages in Christian writings of the thirteenth century, Nat’s father was not alone about the name Narvi (Nari). One or two of Loki's sons are supposed to have had the same name. The statements in this regard demand investigation, and, as I think, this will furnish another instructive contribution to the chapter on the confusion of the mythic traditions, and on the part that the Younger Edda plays in this respect.
The passages are:
The prose conclusion to
Lokasenna: "He (Loki) was
bound with the entrails of his son Nari, but his son Narfi was turned
into a wolf".
(1) Most codices: "His (Loki's) wife is named Sigyn; their son is Nari or Narvi."
(2) Codex Hypnonesiensis: "His (Loki's) wife is named Sigyn; his sons are named Nari or Narvi and Vali".
(1) Most of the codices: "Then were taken Loki's sons Vali and Nari or Narfi. The Aesir changed Vali into a wolf, and the latter tore into pieces his brother Narfi. Then the Aesir took his entrails and therewith bound Loki."
(2) Codex Upsalensis: "Then were taken Loki's sons Vali and Nari. The Aesir changed Vali into a wolf, and the latter tore into pieces his brother Nari."
(1) "Loki is the father of the wolf Fenrir, the Midgard-serpent, and Hel, 'and also of Nari and Ali'."
(2) Codex Wormianus and Codex Hypnonesiensis: "Loki is father of the Fenris-wolf, of the Midgard-serpent, and of Hel, 'and also of Nari and Vali'."
The mythology stated that Loki was bound with chains which were originally entrails, and that he who provided the materials for these chains was his own son, who was torn into pieces by his brother in wolf guise. It is possible that there is something symbolic in this myth — that it originated in the thought that the forces created by evil contend with each other and destroy their own parent. There is no reason to doubt that this account is a genuine myth, that is to say, that it comes from a heathen source and from some heathen poem. But, in regard to the names of Loki's two sons here in question, we have a perfect right to doubt.
We discover contradictions betrayed by the records in regard to them. The discrepancy of the statements can best be shown by the following comparisons. Besides Fenrir, the Midgard-serpent, and Hel, Loki has, according to:
Gylfaginning 33: the son Nari, also called Narfi. No other son is named;
Prose added to Lokasenna: the son Nari, and the son Narfi;
Cod. Hypnon. (Gylfaginning 33): the son Nari, also called Narvi, and the son Vali;
Gylfaginning 50: the son Nari also called Narfi, and the son Vali;
Skáldskaparmál 23: the son Nari, and the son Ali;
Prose conclusion to Lokasenna: Nari is torn into pieces by Narfi;
Gylfaginning: Nari-Narfi is torn into pieces by Vali.
The discrepancy shows that the author of these statements did not have any mythic tradition as the source of all these names of Loki's sons. Below, we will see that the name Narvi did not originally belong to either of them, and that Vali was the name of a son of Odin, mentioned several times in the mythology. Therefore, Loki’s sons must have gone unnamed.
The matter becomes even more apparent when we find—-
That the variations Nari and Narvi, both of which belong to one of the foremost and noblest of mythic beings, namely Nat’s father, are here applied in such a manner that they either are given to two sons of Loki or are attributed to one and the same Loki-son, while in the latter case it happens—
That the names Vali and Ali, which both belong to the same Asa-god and son of Odin who avenged the death of his brother Baldur, are both attributed to the other son of Loki. Compare Gylfaginning 30: Áli eða Váli heitir einn, sonur Óðins og Rindar.
How shall we explain this? Such an application of these names must necessarily produce the suspicion of some serious mistake; but we cannot assume that it was made wilfully. The cause must be found somewhere.
The author of Gylfaginning, on the other hand, rightly regarded Nari and Narvi as simply variations of the same name, and accordingly let them designate the same son of Loki. When he wrote chapter 33, he did not know what name to give to the other, and consequently omitted him entirely. But when he got to the 50th chapter, a light had risen for him in regard to the name of the other. And the light doubtless came from the following half strophe in Völuspá:
This half strophe says that those were strong chains (for Loki) that were made of entrails, and these fetters were "twisted" from "Váli's vígbönd". Víg as a legal term means a murder, slaughter. Vála víg was interpreted as a murder committed by Vali; and Vála vígbönd as the bonds or fetters obtained by the slaughter committed by Vali. It was known that Loki was chained with the entrails of his son, and here it was thought to appear that this son was slain by a certain Vali. And as he was slain by a brother according to the myth, then Vali must be the brother of the slain son of Loki. Accordingly chapter 50 of Gylfaginning could tell us what chapter 33 did not yet know, namely, that the two sons of Loki were named Vali and Nari or Narvi, and that Vali changed to a wolf, tore the brother "Nari or Narvi" into pieces.
The next step was taken by Skáldskaparmál, or more probably by one of the transcribers of Skáldskaparmál. Originally the names Vali and Ali designated the same person, Odin;’s son who avenges Balder’s death. To distinguish Odin’s son Vali from Loki’s son “Vali” the son of Loki received the name "Ali." It is by no means impossible that the transcriber regarded Balder's avenger, Vali, and the son of Loki as identical. The oldest manuscript we have of Skáldskaparmál is the Upsala Codex, which is no older than the beginning of the fourteenth century. The mythic traditions were then in the continuation of that rapid decay which had begun in the eleventh century, and not long after the writers of the Icelandic fornaldarsagas imagined Valhall peopled by giants and all sorts of monsters, which were called einherjes, and Thor himself transformed into a demon.
In the interpretation of the above-cited half strophe of Völuspá, we must therefore leave out the supposed son of Loki, Vali. The Teutonic mythology, like the other Indo-European mythologies, applied many names and epithets to the same person, but it seldom gave two or more persons one and the same name, unless the latter was a patronymic or, in other respects, of a general character. There was not more than one Odin, one Thor, one Njord, one Heimdall, one Loki, and there is no reason for assuming that there was more than one Vali, namely, the divine son of this name.
Of Baldur's brother Vali we know that he was born to avenge the slaying of Baldur. His impatience to do that which he was called to perform is expressed in the mythology by the statement, that he liberated himself from the womb of his mother before the usual time (Baldurs bróðir var um borinn snemma - Völuspá 32), and was only one night old he went to slay Hodur. The bonds which confined the impatient one in his mother's womb were his vígbönd, the bonds which hindered him from combat, and these bonds were in the most literal sense of the word úr þörmum (made out of intestines). As Loki's bonds are made of the same material and destined to hinder him from combat with the gods until Ragnarok, and as his prison is in the womb of the earth, as Vali's was in that of the earth-goddess Rind's, then Vála vígbönd as a designation of Loki's chains is both logically and poetically a satisfactory paraphrase, and the more in order as it occurs in connection with the description of the impending Ragnarok, when Loki by an earthquake is to sever his fetters and hasten to the conflict.
So who did the name Narvi refer to originally?
In a strophe by Egil Skallagrimson (Egil’s Saga ch. 56), poetry, is called niðerfi Narfa, "the inheritance of Narvi’s descendants" (A modern translation by Bernard Scudder reads “drink of the giant’s kin.” Here Narvi is taken as a general name for giant) As is well known, Mimir's fountain is the source of poetry. The expression indicates that the first inhabitant of the lower world, Narvi, also presided over the precious fountain of wisdom and inspiration, and that he died and left it to his descendants as an inheritance.
Finally, we learn that Narvi was a near kinsman to Urd and her sisters. This appears from the following passages:
Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, 4. When Helgi was born norns came in the night to the abode of his parents, twisted the threads of his fate, stretched them from east to west, and fastened them beneath the hall of the moon. One of the threads nipt Nera cast to the north and bade it hold for ever. It is manifest that by Neri's (Narvi's) kinswoman is meant one of the norns present.
Höfuðlausn 10. Egil Skallagrimson celebrates in song a victory won
by Erik Blood-axe, and says of the battle-field that there
trað nipt Nara náttverð ara
("Nari's kinswoman trampled upon the supper of the eagles," that is to
say, upon the dead bodies of the fallen). Thence come valkyries to fetch
the elect. Nipt Nara must
therefore be a valkyrie, whose horse tramples upon the heaps of dead
bodies; and as Egil names only one shield-maid of that kind, he
doubtless has had the most representative, the most important one in
mind. That one is Skuld, Urd's sister, and thus a
Thus what our mythic records tell us about Narvi is:
· He is one of the oldest beings of theogony, older than the upper part of the world constructed by Bur's sons.
· He is of giant descent.
· He is father of Nott, father-in-law of Naglfari, Onar, and of Delling, the elf of the rosy dawn; and he is the father of Dag's mother, of Auðr (also Unnr), and of the goddess Jord, who becomes Odin's wife and Thor's mother. Bonds of kinship thus connect him with the Aesir and with gods of other ranks.
· He presided over the subterranean fountain of wisdom and inspiration, that is to say, Mimir's fountain. He died and left his fountain as a heritage to his descendants.
· He was Odin's friend and the binder of Odin's foes.
He is near akin to the dis of fate and
death, Urd and her sisters. The word
nipt, with which Urd's
relation to him is indicated, may mean sister, daughter, and sister's
daughter. It seems to have been applied almost exclusively to mythic
persons, and particularly in regard to Urd and her sisters (cp.
Narvi is Mimir, "he who thinks" (Mimir) and "he who binds" (Narvi) are the same person. Already the circumstances that Narvi was an ancient being of giant descent, that he dwelt in the lower world and was the possessor of the fountain of wisdom there, that he was Odin's friend, and that he died and left his fountain as an inheritance (cp. Mims synir, Völuspá 45), point definitely to Narvi's and Mimir's identity. Thus the Teutonic theogony has made Thought the older kinsman of Fate, who through Nat bears Dag to the world. The people of antiquity made their first steps toward a philosophical view of the world in their theogony.
This is a condensed and re-edited version of Viktor Rydberg’s Teutonic Mythology, chapter 87. Elsewhere Rydberg has argued that Hel is another name for Urd, i.e. that the goddess of death is identical to the goddess of fate. In Rydberg’s view, Loki’s daughter is a side-figure of Urd, and a messenger of disease, rather than the death-goddess herself. In his opinion, the name of Loki’s daughter is Leikin, and all poetic passages referring to Hel mean Urd. Loki’s daughter does not appear in the poems of the Elder Edda, and she remains a minor character in the poetic sources. Urd however is mentioned several times.