Ásbjôrn cut the stone

3 August, 2015

With this entry I collapse OtRR and let it rest for good.

Last week I read a rune stone text, 28 words or 122 runes. The lix number was 4.37 – how hard can it be? In the two preceding sentences there were 23 words and 81 characters.


Sö 213. Södermanlands runstenar, Sveriges runinskrifter Nybble, Överselö sn. The style is Pr3 – Pr4 (and the stones thus produced in the later part of the 11th century CE).

Runic inscription: s^tain : hiuk : esbern : stintn : at : uitum : bat miþ : runum : raisti : kyla : at : gaiRbern : boanta : sin :· auk · kofriþ : at : faþur : sin : han uaR : boanti : bestr i : kili : raþi : saR : kuni :

 In Old Norse: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn, ok Guðfríðr at fôður sinn. Hann var bóndi beztr í Kíli. Ráði sá kunni.

 In Modern English: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

For this, and much more information, see Samnordisk runtextdatabas http://www.nordiska.uu.se/forskn/samnord.htm

Relevant parts of Södermandlands runinskrifter, which is an old publication in Swedish, can be found at:



In this master thesis Þórhallur Þráinsson demonstrated that if one wished to design a rune stone arranging the layout in relation to a small number of proportionate circles that also helped the artist draw the contour lines would make it easy to paraphrase a Late Carolingian Iron Age, LCIA, rune stone. The principles were published in a small exhibition catalogue from Museum Gustavianum in 1999 (01). As an experiment a rune stone was produced, painted in the most common CIA colours and put in the university park face up to see what Scandinavian weather in the age of global warming would do to it. This is what it looks like today – the maintenance of rune stones must be included in the commemoration of the diseased.


Since we know about the design methods we shouldn’t read a completely preserved stone like Nybble until its layout has been understood. In this case we must take a small shortcut to understanding by accepting that someone other than the carver had perhaps chosen the stone. What then did it look like to begin with? We don’t precisely know that either because today the stone stands in a private garden partly buried in the ground and not in its original place and position, which was on the nearby Iron Age cemetery.



But if we lift it up and put it down on the ground by means of computer programmes we can make it a blank sheet shadowing its small uneven parts and start the planning:


We know the name of the man who ‘cut’ the stone and this verb is taken to mean ‘designed and cut or carved’. He was called Ásbjôrn or Aesbjorn to OtRR. Aesbjorn would have had in mind the text that was supposed eventually to be fitted into the decoration, and this text was divided into two parts as the Runtextdatabase has it:

A-text: Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes. Gylla raised (it) in memory of Geirbjôrn, her husbandman; B-text: and Guðfríðr in memory of her father. He was the best husbandman in Kíll. Interpret, he who can!

Aesbjorn chose a quite common design that would allow these two texts more or less to form a circle, and thus first of all he had to find a centre and a circle to go with them. He gave this main circle a diameter of 48 units (02).

The planning starts in the prime centre (PC) and the carver intends to divide the decoration into an A- and a B-part related to the future inscription. Moreover, he wants there to be an upper, a central and a lower ornamental focus (uf, cf and lf) of the A-part. These three elements are to be based on each their 12-units circles.

The centre of the upper focus, the secondary centre (SC) is situated 17 units above PC. From SC a secondary line defined by a point (SP) 4 units to the right of PC on the horizontal diameter slopes into the A-part of the stone. The upper focus (uf) is the same point as SC and Aesbjorn defines the central focus (cf) as 16 units below uf and defines the lower focus (lf) as an additional 17 units further below uf on the secondary line. This means that the distance between the upper and the central circle is 4 units. Between the central and the lower circle there are 5 units.


The three 12-unit circles aim at balancing the composition and in addition following part of their periphery helps to outline the contours of the key decorative elements. To facilitate the drawing of these elements a number of smaller circles are used, and although some of these may have been fixed by coordinates in the layout there seems to be no point in trying to figure out how.

The smaller inner and outer contour circles in the B-part are there to make the serpent in this part smaller than the A-part animal with its larger circles. The larger circles in the upper part of the stone make the overlapping ‘head bends’ larger than the separated ‘tail bends’, which are kept together by a leash that binds together text and decoration.

The central four-footed animal with its 12/6-unit circle combination is the most impressive of the three key elements and if we think that is body is a bit narrow it is because its breadth equals 4 units.

Finally, the construction of an 8/7-unit pair of circles guiding the small animal’s long ‘crest’ has resulted in ‘constructed’ irregularities.


The composition is based on two united serpent-like animals. Between them and probably bridging them stands the large four-footed animal, which is usually considered to be the Lion of Judah or Christ from the Book of Revelation, 5:5.

If we look at the A- and B-text they are different in a way that matches the decoration. The A-text is the important one, B is more straightforward and dependant on A. The widowed Gylle, the deceased Geirbjorn and Aesbjorn crowd the A-text and they have the lion’s powerful front among them. The B-text relates to Guðfríðr who commemorates her father repeating Gylle’s statement adding that her father was the best of Kil men. In the end she asks the reader to interpret the monument. This last sentence refers back to the beginning of the text since that is where the monument is described by Aesbjorn. Most often carvers mention themselves in the very end of a text – not so Aesbjorn, who proudly declares: Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum, batt með rúnum … . The database has is:’Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes ‘. The transation is correct, but not so faithful to the poet who wrote this part of the inscription as of a strophe. Viti means ‘a marker’, but so does the more frequent word mark and there is more to the word viti. Choosing viti, which is the same word as wit, Aesbjorn wants to make something known in a more manifest or extrovert way and at vitum could be translated ‘to witting’ in the dialectic sense: knowledge or awareness of something. That is why he also uses the verb steinda which means paint, but so does the more common word faði. Aesbjorn chose steinda because he needed an alliteration on stein, but steinda nevertheless has an emphasized element of adding something to something enhancing it as in the term stained glass – to colour, therefore, is a better choice than to paint if we think that stained is too negative. Batt með rúnum means bound with runes referring no doubt to the two-serpent layout carrying the runes. Thus the two first lines of the strophe run:

Stein hjó Ásbjôrn, steindan at vitum,
batt með rúnum, reisti Gylla

Aesbjorn cut the stone coloured (stained) to witting
Bound with runes Gylle raised it

Grammatically, with their insertions these two lines are but an unfinished statement waiting for

at Geirbjôrn, bónda sinn —‘after Geibjorn her husband’ to conclude the strophe.

The whole strophe therefore amounts to:


The first two lines are emphatic and repetitive, but that of course is meant to be contrasted by the less rigid concluding line that includes the strophe’s only anacrusis. From a rhythmic point of view the translation would be better if Geirbjorn was Gylle’s ‘lord’:

Aesbjorn cut the stone, stained to witting,
bound with runes, Gylle raised it
after Geirbjorn her lord.

It’s a Ljóðaháttr statement and the A-text therefore is poetry, the B-text (just) prose, albeit divided into three distinct parts: … and Guðfríðr in memory of her father.| He was the best husband in Kil. | Interpret, he who can!

The database has ‘husbandman’ for bónda, but why Geirbjorn should be a small landower or tenant rather than a yeoman is difficult to say. Bónda would seem to allude to the master of a household. Geirbjorn in his social capacity as a bónda unites the two different texts, the commemorators and the two serpents, which represent a basic divide and unity among those left behind.

I think it is fair to suggest that Ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ alludes to the text :: design relation, that is, ‘the text in interacting tandem with the design’. There are obviously interpretations that we can defend: the two serpents represent Miðgard and its people, among whom there are greater and smaller ones. The Lion of Judah, nevertheless, is there for everybody. So far so good, but when we read the text this ‘decorative’ meaning is not the only truth. Kil stands out as a miniature Miðgard and when a person dies the diseased belongs to the whole of Kil/Miðgard, the A- and B-text respectively, protected by Christ on doomsday. This kind of interactive interpretation will soon become guesswork only, albeit perhaps true, and that I think is the reason why ráði sá kunni—‘Interpret, he who can’ has been chosen as a conclusion. Checking the number of syllables and the meaning of words as well as the size and position of circles is not enough

Before we conclude that every one of us thinks the artist does construct too much, we shouldn’t forget that Aesbjorn added a new kind of metaphor to his verse: (the stone is) steindan at vitum—‘stained to witting’, perhaps it meant something even to the stone – perhaps Aesbjorn had true north on his poetic compass. This is not quite unbelievable since on Selaön of all places the text on a contemporary rune stone Sö 197 ends with a quite common prayer, which nevertheless stands out as singular because it is grammatically transformed and reformulated as the first rhyming pair of qualitative iambic trimeters in Swedish poetry. There’s a new one:


Metaphors and iambic verse – something happened to the poetry on Selaön in the 11th century. ráði sá kunni!



(01) See Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. The exhibition sketches. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Rune stonesa colourful memory, pp. 21–21. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala as well as, Þórhallur Þráinsson. 1999. Traces of Colour. In Eija Lietoff (ed.). Runestonesa Colourful Memory, pp. 21–30. Museum Gustavianum. Uppsala.

(02) Since the greatest height of the carving was 1.36 m and the breadth 1.38 m it stands to reason that the circle was 4.5 foot in diameter and the foot thus ((136+138)/2)/4.5=30.44 cm. The unit Aesbjorn used was 1½ inch.


This week On the Reading Rest I have one of the less rewarding poetic compositions among the Eddic texts. Usually it is known as Helgakviða Hjǫrvarðssonar—The lay of Helgi son of Hjorvarth. In codex Regius, the only manuscript in which the text exists, it is called Fra hiorvarþe oc sigrlin—On Hjorvard and Sigrlinn and that is a level 2 caption, which designates a primary section within the first or the second part of the manuscript (1).


Since King Hjorvard wants a fourth wife and one more beautiful than the three beautiful ones he already has he sends Atli, the son of his Earl Idmund, together with some men to King Svavner to ask for his King’s daughter Sigrlinn’s hand in marriage. Hjorvard has heard that she is the most beautiful. Of course he wants a son too. He already has three, one with each wife, so why not a fourth. Hjorvard sends out his suitor, as we would expect him to do.

In Svavaland the neighbouring King Svavner’s realm the Earl, Franmar, is also the foster father of the King’s daughter and Franmar advices against the marriage – case closed!


We get the impression that Hjorvard collects beautiful young women and that power in King Svavner’s kingdom is divided in order to curb the king.

One day, before he returns, Atli is standing in a groove listening to a gossiping bird. He strikes up a conversation with the bird, who obviously has information to sell, but while negotiating an agreement the bird gives away the essence of its secrets. Atli understands that Sigrlinn’s consent is in fact not the problem.

Returning to Hjorvard’s court, Atli doesn’t mention his bird talks. Instead he explains his lack of success with reference to the difficult journey over the liminal elements of the world – high mountains and a river separating the kingdoms. Probably Atli and his men didn’t look too good when they arrived at Svavner’s, but their difficulties are just the ones a suitor meets when he sets out to woo on behalf of his master within the model of the Holy Wedding. In this case the differences between the kingdoms could not be overcome.

King Hjorvard suggests that they try again and this time he will join them.

The common reader and indeed King Svavner, not to mention Franmer, will tend to find it odd and threatening that King Hjorvard takes such an undiplomatic step, given that any king could be expected to use force to get hold of Sigrlinn.

Not surprisingly therefore, when the wooing party reaches the top of the mountains and looks down on Svavaland, they see a country plagued by war. It would seem that a certain King Rodmar has killed Svavner and ravaged and burnt the country because he couldn’t have Sigrlinn.

Well in Svavaland in their first camp, Atli, despite being on guard, crosses a river in the middle of the night and hits upon a house guarded by a bird that has fallen asleep. He snipes the bird with his spear, enters and finds Sigrlinn and Alov – what a coincidence! Since this calls for an explanation we are told that because of Rodmar and his warriors, Earl Framnar who had to save his two daughters brought them to this safe house defending them with magic while dressed in his eagle guise. With no father, foster-father to trouble them Hjorvard takes Sigrlinn and Atli puts up with Alov. Since all readers of Eddic texts are supposed to be as conventional as a Wagnerian opera audience with double standards we know that Atle’s raid leaving his duty is wrong, but also model WW1 behaviour: leave your own lines, cross no-man’s-land, snipe a guard, take two prisoners and bring them back.

This concludes the first section of the texts related to Helgi Hjörvardsson. The strophes quoted so far relate to Atli, his bird talking capacity, audacity and cunning behaviour – taking risks and being successful.

As expected Hjorvard and Sigrlinn produces a son, big, beautiful and taciturn. None of the names given to him fasten on him. Then in the stage direction way dialogues are most often introduced in Eddic texts we are told: He sat on a hill. He saw nine Valkyries riding and one was the noblest. She said:

In the small dialogue that follows this Valkyrie calls the boy Helgi. She tells him where he can find a good sword and since the reader hasn’t yet been told in the strophes, this section ends in prose announcing that the helpful Valkyrie is called Sváva, her father being King Eylime.

After this rite of passage when the taciturn teenager becomes a man and adopted by the young Valkyrie, he pulls himself together and criticizes his father for not having stopped Rodmar when Svavaland was wasted. Hjorvard, who seems to be a cunning coward, immediately gives Helgi enough men to revenge his grandfather Svavner. Whatever the outcome when Helgi turns Beowulfian, travelling the country solving problems by killing things, Hjorvard will benefit. Helgi collects the sword, sets out together with Atli, who else, and slays Rodmar. This is the beginning of his great deeds.

So far the persons responsible for making Helgi a man have been presented. The strophes have been no more than interesting quotes of direct speech from epic narratives. The prose on the other hand has created a framework for the poetic fragments.

The next section consists of 19 strophes, a dialogue interrupted by prose, between the evil giantess Hrimgerd, loyal old Atli and capable young Helgi. Touring Norwegian fjords doing their deeds Atli and Helgi have killed the giant Hata a horrible and habitual bride abductor. Afterwards in the night when Helgi, Atli and his men are on board their ship, and Atli keeps watch while the others are sleeping, Hata’s daughter Hrimgerd tries to lure Atli ashore. This time he wisely stays on board and together with Helgi they quarrel with Hrimgerd until it dawns and she, being a troll, is petrified.

In the standard carrier of a mythological king Helgi has reached the point where he has shown good strategic sense on top of bravery, righteousness, good looks and a taciturn childhood. Consequently, Helgi is ready to become a king.

It is obvious that Helgi and Atli, Sváva and Hrimgerd as well as Hjorvard and Hata constitute complementary pairs. The two kings, man and giant, are obviously mostly interested in beautiful young women and of the two young but violent women Sváva is the righteous one while Hrimgerd is the over sexualized monster. The male pair – the old retainer and the young prince – is not unheard of either. There’s a touch of Falstaff and Prince Hal when Atli and Helgi wrangle with Hrimgerd. However, in the process of making Helgi a king, Atli develops from the daring young man who leaves his night watch to the loyal old retainer who doesn’t.

Significantly, Helgi, who must have an H-name like his half-brothers and their father, is called just that: Helgi – the holy one (he who is dedicated to the gods) by Sváva who is the equivalent of a God sent angel. His father the powerful Hjorvard—the sword guardian, moreover, is not as good as Hegli.

The long 19 strophe-dialogue in which Helgi gets the last word, calls for minor epic continuation or why not just another break and a new prose section jumping to the next predictable stop in Helgi’s life.

So, when Helgi passes by King Eylime’ court he asks to marry Sváva and since they love each other they are betrothed. He continues to fight and she doesn’t stop being a Valkyrie. Everything seems prosperous! But then Hedin, Helgi’s half-brother, meets a witch riding on a wolf on Yule-eve. She bauð fylgð sína Heðni—offered Hedin her help, but Hedin just cries out ‘No!’ stupidly giving the witch a reason to get annoyed and curse him. Yule-eve rituals eating pork and sharing a mead cup includes a serious New Year’s resolution, Consequently, Hedin being cursed and bent by magic, vows that he shall gain Sváva for himself. Having sworn, Hedin is devastated by his pledge and seeks out Helgi who is campaigning in the southern part of the country. And we the readers are in for another fragment of a dialogue, five strophes, between Hedin and Helgi.

Super-neurotic Hedin is heartbroken, but Helgi tells him not to bother and explains that since he has a duel coming up they might as well wait and see – fate being fate. And then, clairvoyantly, Helgi tells Hedin exactly what happened on Yule-eve when Hedin met the witch. Since clairvoyant kings are usually more carefully introduced, as in the Finnsburg fragment, this strophe calls for an explanation. In this text explanation is matter of prose and the author goes on to tell us what we expect: In the duel Hegli is lethally wounded by Alf the son of King Rodmar.

The duel took place at Sigarsvoll and Helgi sends Sigar off to fetch Sváva. She comes, Helgi dies and dying he expresses his opinion that Sváva should love Hedin, but Sváva doesn’t think so Hedin being jöfur ókunnan—an unknown prince. Being what he is the ever-vowing Hedin who is present cries out: ‘kiss me Sváva’ before he promises not to return until he has revenged Helgi, the best lord etc. Notably in this scene Sváva is not present to begin with although as a Valkyrie she is supposed to look after her Helgi. On wonders whether her active years were over.

Finally in plain prose we are told that Helgi ok Sváva er sagt at væri endrborin—it is said that Helgi and Sváva were born again. Many poems end in some sort of poetic vein but why elaborate in a text that just wants it readers to know so that they don’t forget.


If ever there was a cut-and-paste author ridden by topoi (cf. On the Reading Rest, Devotional Formula 19 August, 2013) it is the compiler of the Eddic text we call helgakviða hjörvarðssonar. At least two metrically different poems have been cut up and patched together.

Everything is chucked in, the cunning king, the suitor in an echo of the Hieros Gamos myth, the perfect retainer, the bipolar loser-brother, the vicarious parricide on Hata, trolls – wolf-riding as well as petrified, madonna and whore (the filth is in strophes 19-22), the clairvoyant king, curse, vow, fate and the objectified female beauty Sigrlinn. We are not even spared an offer death and resurrection reminding us of Christ’s. There is no Christ, no Easter, no supper, no wine, no Judas, no crucifixion, and no Mary Magdalene. But there is a twist: Sváva, duel, Hedin, beer, pork, Yule and prophetic Helgi.

That Helgi and Sváva are born again is more or less the whole point. The love-driven resurrection story might come in handy if we intend to compose something on the cause and effect of Fimbulwinter and Ragnarök (cf. On the Reading Rest, Codex Regius is a Synopsis, 9 March, 2015).

And would you know! Everything started with Hjorvard – topos: old king with dubious habits, sending off Atli – topos: young man who speaks with birds, to woo – topos: standard upper-class procedure.

It seems that all this happened in Western Norway and in a larger historical perspective this is not a bad setting. Not because the events in the patchwork took place in Norway, they didn’t inasmuch as everything happened in a study defined by its narratives. Fictional Western Norway is suitable a setting because we can imagine that in it intellectuals understood that outside their study they witnessed the interaction between, and the practical transition from a folk-religious society accepting a an autonomous reality demonstrated as fate to a society accompanied by a universal religion, which in principle didn’t accept fate and its consequence an autonomous reality.




(1) On the captions and the structure of Codex Regius see:
Lindblad, G., 1954. Studier i Codex Regius av Äldre Eddan i-m. [Lundastudier i nordisk språkhistoria 10.] Lund.
Or more specifically on captions:
Herschend, F. 2002. Codex Regius 2365, 4to – Purposeful Collection and Conscious Composition. Arkiv för nordisk filologi. Vol 117:121-143.  http://journals.lub.lu.se/index.php/anf/article/view/11655


This week On the Reading Rest I have Codex Regius – well a copy printed from the web: http://www.germanicmythology.com/works/CODEXREGIUS.html

Codex Regius-sidaCodex Regius is a manuscript, a compilation of more or less ancient Old Norse texts, mostly poems. In the manuscript, the prose is thought to have been added in the process of compiling the poetry. The actual vellum is a copy of a lost original. Some alterations may nevertheless have been made when the copy was produced. The original collection was based on several different sources and its compilation is dated to the first half of the 13th century CE. Regius dates to the second half. The manuscript consists of two major parts each divided in to two smaller ones and traditionally (in printed editions) it is divided into sections as listed below. Some texts are monologues, mo, some have a prose introduction, pi, others a prose epilogue, pe. Some are pure poetry, some mix prose and poetry and two are just prose.

Regius structureOriginally the manuscript consisted of 96 or 98 pages, but today only 90 pages remain since there is a lacuna between page 64 and 65. In this lacuna c. 200 or c. 270 lines, i.e. 6 or 8 pages have disappeared. Four pages of a poem in the style of Brot af Sigurðarkviðu, that is, ‘A fragment of the poem about Sigurd’, contain c. 300 poetic long lines or c. 75 strophes. On the 6 or 8 pages that once filled up the lacuna both the end of the poem Sigrdrífomál from strophe 38 and onwards and a ‘long’ Siguðarkviða, except for the last 18.5 strophes, must have got room. We can expect either 100 or 130 strophes to have disappeared in the lacuna, given that part of the pages were probably filled with prose. If we can imagine a Siguðarkviða twice the length of the short one (Sigurðarkviða in skamma) and thus about the same length as Hávamál, then we can imagine that only the end of Sigrdrífomál and major part of The long Siguðarkviða were lost. Be this as it may, the loss would have been part of a group of poems centring on Sigurð, Guðrún, Gunnarr, Brynhildr and their world. This series of poems, the second part of the manuscript starting on page 39, is introduced by the poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana I.

It is odd that Codex Regius consists of two components, prose and poetry, rather than just one or the other. Prose is always explanatory or narrative. Direct speech is used in most texts, predominantly in poetry, but even in prose as quotations, quoted strophes or half strophes. In the poetry direct speech occurs in monologues and dialogues. Dialogues may characterize the entire poem or blend with narrative strophes. Dialogues may constitute scenes or they may be used as references. Direct speech is also used when it is not part of a dialogue.

When dialogues are used in scenes, the scenes themselves play a part in the dialogue and the scene is often referred to by those who talk to each other. Stranding in front of her lover Helgi’s mound where the dead Helgi contrary to what she has hoped does not turn up, Sigrún laments: Kominn væri nú ef koma hygði, Sigmundr burr frá sǫlum Óðins—‘he would have come now, if he meant to, Sigmund’s son from Óðinn’s halls’. The strophe explains the situation to us when we see Sigrún by the mound. And it refers to a lost or suppressed dialogue between Sigrún and her maid in which the maid tells her mistress that she had met the dead Helgi and his dead men riding towards his mound. With a great presence of mind the maid had asked him whether what she saw was a delusion or Ragnarök. It was neiher. Formally, when seeing Sigrún by the mound we may wonder where she is and what she is doing. In effect, therefore, the strophe explains something in relation to the dialogue and identifies the mound as Helgi’s rather than one of the other mounds.

Roughly speaking, there are three ways of using dialogue in Eddic poems.

Group I. Dialogue is consistently used in scenes. There may be some explanatory prose lines, half strophes or strophes, e.g. in the beginning of a poem as in Oddrúnargrátr. Prose occurs between the strophes, but it is redundant if the scene is performed. Generally speaking poems in this group have two metrical forms – either A, ljóðahattr or B, fornyrðislag/málaháttr, but meters may also be mixed as in Fáfnismál, or deviant ljóðahattr as in Hárbarzlióð.

Group II. Dialogue is used in scenes within a narrative where direct speech stands out as quotation or explanation. There is also descriptive prose and explanatory strophic poetry. The meter is fornyrðislag/málaháttr except for one strophe in Helgakviða Hundingsbana II (st. 29) and several in Reginsmál, in which ljóðahattr is used. Reginsmál and Fáfnismál is actually one section in the manuscript (page 56:line 30 to page 61:line 19), and Reginsmál, in which there is more prose than poetry, uses strophes from at least two poems, sometimes embedding a strophe in a prose description. Reginsmál pinches together quotations, fragments of scenes and explanatory prose in order to introduce the reader to Fáfnismál, which is dominated by poetry.

ReginsmálGoup III. Narratives that makes use direct speech as quotations. Sometimes the direct speech is organized as dialogues, but not as dramatic scenes in their own right. Dialogues in these poems may be echoes of actual dramatic scenes or composed as referring to fictitious scenes never staged. There is no sharp divide between groups, II and III. The meter used is fornyrðislag as one would expect from a narrative or epic poem.

Codex R structureThe poems in Codex Regius sort themselves in different ways. Their point of departure is the obvious performative poems i.e. the monologues, designated mo. These poems are followed by the most dialogical and scenic poems, Goup I. The mixed poems, which blend narrative, direct speech, dialogue and scenes, follow suite. One group of mixed poems, Group II, has scenes embedded in descriptions and direct speech. The latter stands out as quotations. The other, Group, III, lacks genuine scenes inasmuch as the dialogues are meant to support a more straightforward narrative. Passages that formally speaking are dialogues or monologues, therefore, stand out as quotations or references.

In sections which mix poetry and prose (the underlined ones) prose is used either in order to explain something that may actually be inferred from a close reading of the strophes (Fǫr Skirnis and Lokasenna), or it may have been inserted in order to make up for missing parts, i.e. something that cannot be inferred. The beginning of Regius, Part II there are four sections Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, Helgakviða Hiǫrvarzonar, Helgakviða Hundingsbana II and Reginsmál in which one has tried, but not really succeeded, to reconstruct and/or piece together a poem by means of a glue made of prose. Together with the prose section Frá dauða Sinfiǫtla these poems form the introduction to the rest of Regius, Part II. It is their contents rather than their poetic qualities that matters to the compiler.

Völunderkvida vers 15 mflAn instructive example of moderate reconstruction of the contents of lost strophes suggests itself in the poem Vǫlundarkviða between strophe 15 and 18. The manuscript is easy to read and obviously the last part of strophe 15 and most of strophe 16 have not been remembered completely. In order to understand strophe 17 and 18, prose would seem to have been added to make up for what was not readily remembered as poetic strophes.

Regius prose & poetry

Looking at Regius as a structured manuscript and at the technical character of its sections, the two main parts I & II stand out as different. Moreover, Regius, Part I is Æsir-centred (from Vǫluspá to Alvissmál) and Part II is Guðrún-centred (from Helgakviða Hundingsbana I to Hamðismál). Each part is marked by specific relations to the future. The Æsir-centred material contains a number text that makes it obvious that ‘now’, when Tyr has lost his hand and Balder is no longer among us, everybody is waiting for the Fimbulwinter and its consequence Ragnarök. Gods, giants and the odd human being are looking towatds inevitable fate looming in a future winter that never ends.

BrakteaterMotives on gold bracteates hint that humans such as Sigrún’s maid may think that this could be a 5th century situation. The Æsir-centred poems are composed for those who were wise after the event.




Gudrun in the centreIn the Guðrún-centred Part II, nobody of importance pays heed to imminent Ragnarök let alone its prelude. In fact, living their upper-class pre-Fimbulwinter Miðgard life the upper classes cannt be bothered with catastrophe as long as it doesn’t involve family. Guðrún’s life is a complete failure inasmuch as all her seven children die without having reproduced themselves. Name dropping suggests that Guðrún’s was a pre-Ragnarök dysfunctional ‘lifetime’ involving kings and queens of the kind that played a role in 4th, 5th and 6th century affairs. The poems erre composed to satisfy the curiosity of those who were not involved in days of yore. This means that relatively speaking Regius Part I & II are more or less contemporary and pre-Fimbulwinter.

Gods and members of the upper classes think differently about Ragnarök. Gods are preoccupied by their fate and freak out, the upper classes cannot be bothered as they have their hands full of fighting, loving, hating, and killing each other. Thus the loyalty of the maid is deviant, cleverly seeking information to pass on to her mistress. Sigrún herself couldn’t have asked her lover Helgi whether he had become an illusion or gone Ragnarök, but since her maid knows that Sigrún wants to know she asks the stupid question and gets the reassuring answer.

Codex Regius is not a collection of old verse, it is a composition that aims at compiling a base for describing the trauma and moral dissolution among gods and upper classes in the years leading up to the Fimbulwinter (the cold decade 536-45 CE) and the ensuing Ragnarök. The imminent outcome of these events is known: nearly all gods will die and some humans survive. The audience therefore consists of the progeny of those who survived the decade and populate the new world overseen by surviving goddesses and new gods like Rigr and the resurrected Balder. The audience will not be surprised to hear that in the past the upper classes proved themselves fighting, loving and hating each other in much the same way as they have continued to do after Ragnarök, when society started from scratch although spite and iniquity hadn’t been stamped out.

Obviously, composing poems in the Æsir-centred Part I makes sense only in order to settle the scores. Having done that, this kind of poetry will stand out as a critical conclusion to the era of old gods. This is an interesting genre allowing a poet to compose grotesque works like Lokasenna, but in the long run it will not be as productive as poems concerning the lives of the upper classes, who, accepting the end of the old society, see themselves as ancestors to the old gods as well as survivors of Ragnarök.

Codex Regius, therefore, is a purposeful collection of works compiled to describe the mid-6th c. end of the old society and its gods. The balance between the two parts – Part I being shorter than Part II – suggests that composing poems in the Guðrún-centred genre, digging up the historical roots of the surviving upper classes, was more popular than composing Æsir-centred works. But this is of minor importance in a collection composed to point out a traumatic past rather than collecting old poems. Regius is a collection of material needed and ordered by someone who wanted to write an epic poem about the world that disappeared in the middle to the 6th century. Writing about this period is nothing unique, Beowulf treats the same period albeit from a purely human point of view. Contrary to Regius, people in Beowulf are forced to experience the breakdown of society with little hope of surviving. Beowulf offers a simple explanation: this happens to a society that doesn’t know God! Today we are not convinced, but in Beowulf as well as Regius, we can appreciate their dystopic end in which death signals that nothing but silence remains.

Regius is a collection of texts needed to compose a long poem juxtaposing the harsh fate of the gods and the arrogant recklessness of the horrible old regime. It is easy to see that such a poem could start by criticizing the gods, their appalling behaviour, which helped to bring about catastrophe, and continue focusing on the equally appalling behaviour of the worldly upper classes – a poem about a rotten Ásgard mentality making itself felt in Miðgard. If we want a hero like Beowulf to be the protagonist of the poem we might opt for Skirnir, the Gods’ messanger.

Without really interfering with fate, the story and its digressions, adding some Christian points of view in the simplistic way characteristic of Beowulf could easily explain the cultural breakdown and deranged behaviour referring to the fact that people didn’t know God. In short: we don’t know whether Regius was ever composed as a poem or written down, luckily, however, the compilation lived a literary life of its own.

This week On the Reading Rest I still have the article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave, i.e. in a place that attracts and radiates – a ‘focus’ and a ‘centre’ in the human landscape (6). In this nave the stone does something and it seems plausible that the reason why the stone does what it does rests with the man who calls himself Wolverine. This man in his turn is connected to someone he calls Chilver-Servant (a chilver being a ewe lamb). Since it is plausible that a wolverine meeting a chilver in meadows or mountains will kill the lamb and eat it, it seems reasonable to suggest that the 1st and 2nd elements of the dithematic names, naudi-, -gastiz and –þewaz (7) are chosen to convey a less brutal situation. Generally speaking combining a variety of first and second elements in dithematic names (their stems) are meant to explore the concepts of being a Guest or a Servant.

Contexts containing names or appellatives with -þewaz, servant, as the second element indicate that being a servant ranks high among the upper classes. King Hrothgar’s perfect queen Wealhtheow in Beowulf is a case in point and so is Virgin Mary in Hêliand, she who modestly says: Thiu bium ic theotgodes—‘I am the Folk-god’s maid servant(=thiu)’. In Hêliand shs is betrothed to Joseph, the man who presently occupies King David’s throne in Bethlehem, no less, and Mary is by no means a servant to anyone except God in his capacity as protector of the people (cf. OtRR 19 August 2013). Being a chilver servant is thus a most honourable ocupation that accords harmoniously with having a wolverine as a guest. Since there is a symbolic ring of devotion to the name Kelbaþewaz befitting a member of the upper classes, this devotion spreads downwards in the hierarchy to his guest Erafaz, the Wolverine, when he calls himself Need-guest.

ILLU 09Guest-names are common Old Germanic names and in their original form before 500 CE, they point out a male visitor to a social environment that accepts him as a guest (8).

The visitor, who is on his own and by definition comes from somewhere, has a dependent, albeit prestigious social position because he may have personal qualities or be useful and rewarded in certain situations as well as dangerous. Some guests cannot behave themselves, but others like Beowulf can, Being a useful guest, as well as lethal to the likes of Grendel and his mother, is no less than Bowulf’s road to success. To be a guest may thus be a career and guest-names may well refer to a role. Runologists often suspect that guest- and servant-names are based on a conventional variation of the first element making the semantics of the both uninteresting. However, in turbulent and formative periods such as the first half of the first millennium CE variation in the first element is obviously a way to investigate new concepts such as guest and servant as well as their social meaning in a society gradually becoming more and more stratified.

Proto-Germanic need-names are uncommon, MiSCHu knows of none except Hogganvik, but next to Naudigastiz from Mandal there is the broadly speaking contemporary Hnaudifridus from Housesteads across the North Sea (R(oman) I(nscriptions in) B(ritain) 1576; altar):


DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI ET N(numina) AVG(usti) N(umerus) HNAVDIFRIDI V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens et) M(erito)—To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabis, and to the divine spirit of the Emperor, the unit of Hnaudifridius readily and deservedly fulfils its vow.

The name HNAVDIFRIDI is the Germanic name Naudifriþuz in Latinised genitive. The initial H is a misspelling, but it is conceivable for other reasons too that the Latin speaking composer of the inscription had difficulties analysing what he heard – or perhaps what Notfried said (9). The numerus Hnaudfrifdi—‘Naudifrid’s unit’, is this officer’s loosely defined group of mounted men. Rather than a Roman or a Romanised German like 1st c. Cerialis the officer Naudifridus is a German, and this indicates that he and this unit were mercenaries of the 3rd c. CE (10). A Friesian wedge-formatted mounted unit (a cuneus) was often stationed at Housesteads by Hadrian’s Wall and in inscriptions this unit referred to the Germanic deities the Alaisagae. Owing to these circumstances Naudifridus and his men were probably Friesian from Twente or at least German speaking. The long-term presence of the Friesians and Tungrians as well as their involvement in the Romanization of Northern England is attested not least by the tablets from nearby Vindolanda (11).

Similar to Naudigastiz, the meaning of Naudifriþuz is in all probability positive and the name/appellative would signify something like peace/protection when there needs be just that. His mother may have known him as Schtroumpfy, but we may think of him as a -friduz recognizing that sword in hand he once brought peace to a negative situation. Perhaps the name could be paralleled with the place name Gundralöv, which once contained the name Gunþifriþuz—strife + peace, i.e. he who brings peace to strife in some way or other (12). Analogically, Naudigastiz would signify a guest who is needed – an outsider loyal to his host, who is probably a hall owner or at least a person with some kind of wealth and a political agenda that might need support.

In their inscription, both Naudifriþuz and Naudigastiz recognize the hierarchies to which they belong, and given the troubled 4th century with the disappearing Western Roman Empire and the thousands of farms that were given up in South Scandinavia, it seems reasonable to construct Naudi-names or –appellative. Indirectly they would signify belief in a social order under pressure. This endangered order reflects a social stratification, which grew during the RIA and created an elite that was replaced in the 6th c. when the new South Scandinavian centres emerge (13).

Irrespective of their first element, there is no need to infer that names ending in -gastiz, -þewaz or –friþuz must refer to martial skills only. The concepts are broader although martial skills may be required. And although Naudigast acknowledges the supremacy of Kelbaþewaz, Like Naudifrid, who acknowledges the Goddesses and the Emperor, the central figure in the inscriptions is Naudigast and Naudifrid respectively. Both may be praised. While R.I.B 1576 is conventional the Hogganvik inscription is exceptional, partly because it refers to the monument in which it stands – a nave and seemingly a relatively sacred place. Today we must appreciate the fact that a rune stone happens to mention and illustrate a nave thus giving us a clue to its capacity as a spiritual site where chanting lexical nonsense or uttering alphabetical magic for those who can read or hear was a worthwhile perpetual occupation at least for standing stones.

Commemorating Kelbaþewaz or the Emperor was not the primary purpose of the monuments. Instead, in Hogganvik as well as in Housesteads devotion and the glory it lends to the devotee is the central theme. In Housesteads inscriptions live up to a formulaic standard while in Hogganvik an original formulation seems much more important, but that does not tell us whether Naudigast was more devoted than Naudifrid or vice versa. Nor do we know whether they ever met their masters. Given the small-scale Iron Age society, which we believe characteried Southwest Norway, we nevertheless hope that Naudifrid and Kelbaþewa knew each other, as hinted when the former calls himself Kelbaþewa’s guest. In Hogganvik the introductory I-formulation, which always sounds as if we were listening to someone taking an oath, creates personal presence, while dedication gives gravity and distance to Housesteads. It is the suitable expression and the blending of a moral spiritual and a practical social status that matters.

Far from being no more than inscriptions on stones that ‘reflect hierarchical societies’ the statements at Housesteads and Hogganvik are ritual formulations befitting sanctuaries. At Housesteads the stone is an altar at a temple in the vicus, at Hogganvik the stone stands in the nave. At both places there is probably a nearness to spirits or gods. In Housesteads the altar in the edifice sees to that, in Hogganvik the stone, the kerbstones and the elevated position of the monument creates or enhances a nave in the landscape. As pointed out OtRR 9 Jan, 2012: “the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery“. We don’t know if the nave sanctuary had any other vertical elements other than the stone, but we may still speak of it as a small road sanctuary with a nave opening to the Northeast.


In the nave the stone, imbued with non-lexical runes, held an essential part of the ritual statement framed by a more worldly lexical explanation. As Naudifriþuz could have spoken the formulaic words later carved on the altar stone, Erafaz could have done the same in Hogganvik, not least why the inscription is direct speech. Like Naudifriþuz, Erafaz demonstrates his devotion, albeit indirectly, but there doesn’t seem to be any dedication in Hogganvik. A dedication may of course hide itself in the non-lexical expression – who knows?

The Hogganvik monument is very Norwegian and very 4th century CE, but it borrows the idea of the religious inscription and perhaps the idea of the constructed sanctuary from Roman civilisation. The stone didn’t last long and had I been a religious fundamentalist in the years around 500 CE smashing rune stones and opening chamber graves in the Mälar Valley in Sweden defending true religious values, I would have gone to Norway and toppled the Hogganvik stone. Since the road to Norway passed the Järsberg stone in Värmland I would have pushed that one over too and had a go at the Tune stone in Østfold when I passed by. But that’s another story.



(6) cf. Herschend 2009:139ff. Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:287406

(7) The names can be looked up in Peterson 2004, se note (5).

(8) Recently guest-names have been collected and discussed by Haubrichs 2008:53-79. Haubrichs, Wolfgang. 2008 Namenbrauch und Mythos-Konstruktion. Die Onomastik der Lex-Salica-Prologe. In: Uwe Ludwig and, Thomas Schilp (eds). Nomen et Fraternitas. Festschrift for Dieter Geuenich on his 65th Birthday. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde – Ergänzungsbände 62. Berlin – New York. De Gruyter. See also MiSchu:125.

(9) There is an old but quite good discussion of the Germanic names of this innscrption by Theodor Siebs. See Siebs, Theodor. 1922. On an altar dedicated to the Alaisiagae 2. Archaeologia Aeliana. Vol 19:192-197.

(10) Bowman, Alan K. 2003. Life and letters of the Roman frontier. Vindolanda and its people. London. The British Museum. Alan Bowman gives an overview of the role of Friesians and Tungrians in the Romanisation of England pp 14-27 and specifically on Cerialis pp. 20f. See also the discussion on Hnaudifridus in: Birley, Anthony. 1980 The people of Roman Britain. Berkley. University of California Press.

(11) The Turingians emerged sometime in the early 1st c. CE when they became auxiliary troops (see Bowman 2003: 14-27. In Ceasar’s days they were but Gemani West of the Rhine in Northern Gaul. It would not be surprising if the Romans were instrumental in the ‘ethnogenesis’ of Tungrians and even Friesians, conveniently collecting a number of tribes or Germans under one heading. Skill was probably more important than blood for those who became auxiliary soldiers.

(12) See Peterson 2004:26 and Locked Inside a Nave Since the Fourth Century CE – Part I note (5) above.

(13). This development and change is the topic of chapter six, The Landscape of Warfare pp 331-81 and condenced at page 359 in Herschend, Frands. 2009. The Early Iron Age in South Scandinavia : social order in settlement and landscape. Uppsala. Uppsala University. http://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2:287406


This week On the Reading Rest I have an article on the rune stone from Hogganvik, Mandal, in Southwest Norway. This stone was mentioned OtRR 9 January, 2012, but there is no point in looking it up since in the present entry the perspective from 2012 has simply been developed.

ILLU 01Schultze, Michael. 2013. The Norwegian Hogganvik Stone as an Emblem of Social Status and Identity. Journal of the North Atlantic 4:120-128. Acronym: MiSCHu.

This article is extremely informative, 80 different references in 7 pages, but in the end, which is called Principal Conclusion, the stone and its inscription becomes a general and quite unspecific reflection of the commonplace when it comes to the Late Roman Iron Age (LRIA 150-350 CE): “… it reflects a hierarchical society.” (MiSCHu:125). Since ‘status’ and ‘individuality’ is not mentioned in this first sentence the rest of the conclusion links the sponsor to these concepts. The Principal Conclusions may thus be summarized as the first sentence in a BA exam essay on the LRIA in south Scandinavia: “In the Late Roman Iron Age South Scandinavia was a hierarchical society with marked symbols of power and social identity emphasizing status and individuality”. A peevish teacher will of course stick in ‘eventually’ before ‘individuality’, but otherwise not bother much because this introductory phrase has been the archaeological wisdom for the last 30-40 years.

How come that such an intricate inscription and deep knowledge lead us to no more that the commonplace?

Some runologists have had trouble understanding that early rune stones do not always, just because it is possible, commemorate a deceased person. Already when Sven B F Jansson discussed the stone from Järsberg in Värmland, where excavations eventually showed that the stone was erected on a small natural hillock and not on or next to a grave, he noted this peculiar and century-old runological bias (1). Early rune stones are never typical formulaic headstones or memorials and they differ significantly from contemporary Roman headstones or the formulaic Scandinavian memorial rune stones, which date to the Carolingian Iron Age. The formulaic nucleus of the latter consists of three parts: The Sponsor – erected the monument after – The Deceased. One might have expected that in Scandinavia, Roman Iron Age man, given his possible connections with the Roman army, would have adopted some sort of Roman headstone formula. But that is not the case. There are one or two possible parallels in design, such as Möjbrostenen, but none in expressions. In fact there is no reason to believe that a text commemorates a deceased and names a sponsor if the text is not unambiguous.


Most often it takes archaeology to figure out the context of a rune stone. The Hogganvik inscription is a case in point. For a short while, before the archaeological excavation, this rune stone was a headstone standing on a grave. After the excavation it was not, but to runologists its alleged commemorative character featuring the deceased and the sponsor prevailed. In all fairness it must be said that MaSCHu is a significant step away from this preunderstanding, but it nevertheless continuous to colour his reading and interpretation of the inscription (2). Since there are non-lexical runes in the inscription, obscure concepts such as magic and/or cipher must also be allowed a priori to structure the text in a runological discourse. (cf. MiSCHu:123)

Demonstrating these difficulties understanding the topographical and monumental context of the stone, Hogganvik is a sad modern case in point. Based on Glørstad et al. 2011, commented upon OtRR 9 January, 2012 (3), is was easy to sum up the context: Today, we know so much that we can approach the stone as it would quite likely have been approached around 400 AD. It stood as a poster and if we were not locals we would probably have approached it from the South following a road going North through or along a small cemetery. We would have passed by the most prominent grave and then just before the road turned left and down in a slope or between two hills we would have stood in front of the stone.

ILLU 03The stone, moreover, stood in a monument of its own and to a great extent the layout of the inscription and thus the shape of the stone was reflected in the contours of this monument laid out in kerbstones. The position of the rune stone itself within the monument corresponds to the two short lines. The stone was chosen and cut; the kerbstones laid out, and the stone put in its place.

To sum up: the longest part of the inscription frames the two shorter parts. The longest is a proportional map of the outline of the interior of the monument in which the stone was erected. The two shorter parts are situated more or less where the stone stood. Thus the layout of the inscription is a map of the monument. The material context is manifest and not without material agency.

Since the design of the stone consciously parallels that of the monument, the layout of the text is a complement to the layout of the monument. Because this fact is not ‘textual’ in the pre-1980 still frequent runological usage of the concept ‘textual’, some runologists feel free to overlook it. Probably, they lose interest when archaeologists produce contexts, which runologists would not already have recognized in the text. Thus the idea of the headstone is not given up as long as it can be slightly moderated. Consequently, the deceased and the sponsor are still live & kicking — that is agency-wise.

It is commonly agreed, but no longer by MiSCHu, that the longest part, the broken line in which the sections are read towards each other, made up one series of runes and an expression which contained a series of 14 non-lexical runes situated mainly in the second part of the line. The broken line is read it in this way:


and the result becomes: kelbaþewas⁞stainaz⁞aaasrpkfaarpaa⁞inananaboz (line Z)

In this part of the inscription the text is divided into smaller sections by means of vertical dots (), which separate the non-lexical runes from the lexical, and stainaz from kelbaþewas. It would have been easy to organize the inscription in three lines, read boustrophedon – as the oxen ploughs: from right to left to right to left – if clarity had been an issue:


Since this solution was not chosen, simple clarity probably did not guide the carver (4).

On the one hand there is no doubt that the correspondence between the inscription and the shape of the monument dictates the layout of line Z. Ekerafaz and eknaudigastiz on the other hand are meant to make up two lines within the ‘monument’ as it is outlined on the stone. Therefore, we shall have to figure out whether ekerafaz (line X) and eknaudigastiz (line Y) are meant to be read first or last. Since these lines similar to the stone itself, are situated in the centre of the monument, they are probably the most important ones and indeed two parallel lines. This indicates that the simplest way to read the text is to start in the centre with the meaningful line, ek erafaz—I Erafaz, and proceed upwards reading lines X – Y – Z, in order eventually to have read through ‘the whole monument’. This means that we start by reading the inside of the monument, i.e. the rune stone, and proceed to cover its perimeter, the kerbstones.

ILLU 05a

Since inscriptions that mix lexical and non-lexical runes, usually adhere to a systematic pattern: lexical – non-lexical – lexical, in such a way that the last lexical section brings the inscription to an end in a few words, the X – Y – Z reading becomes even more reasonable. ‘Innananaboz’, to be sure is typical lexical cadenza and there is no need to start all over again with a new expression such as ‘ekerafaz’. ‘Ek’, i.e. ‘I’, mreover, is a common somewhat pompous introductory pronoun (Table 1).


On the Hogganvik stone word wrapping doesn’t necessarily indicate a major break in the text and there need not be a break between eknaudigastiz and kelbaþewas. Dots on the other hand always do. This means that there is probably a break between kelbaþewas and stainaz. Since there are no signs to end an expression, the dots simply mark out a beginning that the carver thinks is not obvious. Evidently, this is the function of the dots between kelbaþewas and stainaz. Stainaz is the beginning of something and kelbaþewas thus the end. These dots are necessary because kelbaþewas stainaz—Kelbaþewa’s stone is otherwise a perfectly reasonable expression.


Since most runologists expect the texts to be inscribed on a headstone, they disregard the vertical dots and read what they expect: ‘Kelbaþewa’s stone’. In fact they will think that disregarding the dots is a consequence of the two words.

Be this as it may: if the text, guided by lines and dots, can be read as two propositions – one, preferably the last, containing a non-lexical expression close to the end of the whole text – it should be read so, for instance:

ILLU 07a

The first line, Ek erafaz ek naudigastiz kelbaþewas, is a nominal sentence: I Erafaz, I Naudigatiz (am) Kelbaþewa’s

Since erafaz means ‘wolverine’ and Naudigastiz ‘need-guest’ and kelbaþewa ‘chilver-servant’ (chilver is ‘ewe lamb’) and since they are words used as appellatives and/or proper names, the sentence runs: I Wolverine, I Needgest (am) Chilver-Servant’s. Wolverine presents himself with a name, in effect an appellative, as Chilver-Servant’s need-guest. ‘Guest’-names and ‘servant’-names as well as ‘need’-names are Late Early Iron Age names (5).

The second line, stainazaaasrpkfaarpaainnananaboz, is a sentence too. ‘Stainaz’ is the subject and ‘innananaboz’ is a prepositional phrase or a postpositional adjective referring to stainaz. ‘Innana’ is a preposition which governs the genitive. It means inside or within, and ‘nabu’ means nave, but not just in a wheel.

ILLU 07b

For some reason, Michael Schulte seems not to contemplate that innananaboz might be a postpositional adjective describing stainaz. In Scandinavian languages this way of constructing an adjective is common, not least in Danish, which MiSchu doesn’t mention: inden+bords, inden+bys, inden+dørs, inden+lands, inden+rigs, inden+skærs or inden+sogns. They are always matched by their antonym “uden+…”. There are also local usages applicable when the difference between inside or outside is sufficiently significant. At Langör by Stavnsfjord on Samsø children in the 1950s could sail their dinkies “indenfjords”, but not “udenfjords”—in the fjord but not outside it.


Today there is no particular point in specifying whether the presence of something is either, or predominantly either, inside or outside a nave and there is no such word as “inden+navs”, but “indennavs” for “within the nave” is nevertheless unproblematic if one’s relation to naves is sufficiently dichotomous. Syntactically speaking, the non-lexical runes ‘aaasrpkfaarpaa’, which may be a representation of the act of an incantation, perchance a gealdor, or ‘alphabetic magic’ to runologists, stands in for a verb such as to sing or chant or express. The second sentence therefore describes the stone in the monument stating that: the stone ‘chants this (non-lexical) phrase’ inside the nave. It might of course have been Erafaz—Wolverine who taught the stones to sing: ‘aaasrpkfaarpaa’. In the two similarly structured inscriptions in the above table, DR 261 and DR 196, the ‘I’ rather than the object is the agent.



(1) Jansson, Sven B. F. 1978. Värmlands runinskrifter. Sveriges runinskrifter. Vol. 14:2. Stockholm Almqvist & Wiksell International. Jansson discusses this on pp. 32-36.

(2) In this respect Knirk, James. 2011. Hogganvik-innskriften: en hard runologisk nøtt. Viking 2011. Pp 25-39 and MaSCHu:123 represent two different attitudes to preunderstanding.

(3) This is: Glørstad et al. 2011. Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad, Jakob Johansson & Frans-Arne Stylegar. Minnelund og monument. Runesteinen på Hogganvik, Mandal, Vest-Agder. Viking 2011. Pp 9-24.

(4) It is not unusual that early inscriptions have a relation to the object on which they are inscribed, thus adding dimensions to their textual meaning, given that they are often written on artefacts.

(5) See below and Peterson, Lena. 2004 Lexikon över urnordiska personnamn http://www.sprakochfolkminnen.se/download/18.5e02b54a144bbda8e9b1c11/1398151044347/urnordiska-personnamn.pdf

This week On the Reading Rest I still have the Poetic Edda. It’s Gustav Neckel’s edition and I continue to read Lokasenna – the Loki Quarrel.

Neckel, Gustav. 1927. Edda. Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern. Vol. 1:Text. Vol. 2:Kommentierendes Glossar. 2. Aufl. Heidelberg. Carl Winters Universitätsbuchhandel.

The structure of the Lokasenna dialogue suggests that it is a play about life in the hall, performed in the hall itself in front of the hall guests (OtRR 23 Dec 2013). Since it features the mature Æsir referring to their adolescence and hinting at their future destiny, the dialogue refers to a historical situation when gods and their human extension, the upper classes, lived their ‘civilized’ lives in halls. In the day and age of the dialogue, the gods are paragons and mythic characters, but contrary to Trinity and Church, they are present and their characters easy to grasp in a tense hall situation.

The strophes 1-10 cover two scenes: Loki outside the hall in a conversation with Ægir’s servant Eldir (strophes 1-5) and the scene which results in Loki getting a seat at the party. (strophes 6-10). It seems that Loki knows Eldir, but perhaps he instinctively calls him Eldir, giving him a typical serf’s name recognizing his duties from his looks and doings.

The conversation between Eldir and Loki serves three purposes:

(1) As a prologue, it tells the audience that they are guests sitting in Ægir’s hall with the victorious Æsir. Since the wars are over the winners are having a sumbl – a feast, drinking beer, bragging about their glory, talking about the war they won, praising themselves and blaming others. The victorious Æsir, Óðinn with his entourage, are in effect touring their realm visiting one of their vassals. To use the Norse term, they are on a veizla. Contrary to what Sigrun in the First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane, st. 17, emphatically suggests to Helgi after the battle is won: “I think that the two of us have other things to do than drinking beer with the ring breaker (HH 1 St 17:2) – the Æsir in Lokasenna have nothing better to do than just that with their ring breaker or leader, Óðinn. A simple pleasure, bragging may nevertheless come with a price as it did for the East Saxons at Maldon when it became apparent to those involved that many a bold and boastful hall speech would not endure the stress of the battle (Battle of Maldon vv 199-200).

(2) As a dialogue the strophes demonstrate the conflicts underlying the situation, i.e. the Æsir’s oppressive self-indulgence demanding the degraded to forget about being wronged and to behave themselves in accordance with the code of the hall and civilized life. In strophe four, therefore, Eldir says: ‘be sensible!’ because Loki in strophe three has announced that – having no real power – he will poison the beer with words. Eldir being Ægir’s thrall and waiting upon the victorious Æsir is well-aware of the situation.

(3) Technically speaking the strophes build up to Loki’s entering the stage giving his two-strophe speech a striking but also revealing background – we know that mischief is his aim, but may still find his way of introducing himself cunning inasmuch as he immediately appeals to the norms of the civilized hall life to invite a man who comes from afar to take a seat. Knowingly he comments upon the fact that the Æsir felt silent as he entered and when Bragi cannot hold back his anger demonstrating that he doesn’t always adhere to the norms of the hall norm, Loki immediately turns to the ruler (Óðinn, i.e. Bragi’s father) reminding him of their common past. Similar to what happens in Beowulf when the hero gains permission to enter the hall because King Hrothgar knew him as a child, Óðinn acknowledges the overarching principle of a shared past, and grants Loki a seat – that of his son Vidar as it were – and thus not a low-ranking seat. It would seem significant, therefore, that everybody has a past.

Well in his seat Loki hails gods and goddesses, but points the finger at Bragi, St 11. The first part of the quarrel (St. 11 to 28) commences and it is obvious that to begin with the female gods/guests try to mediate reconciliation between the males, but little by little everyone is drawn into the quarrel. The male gods may start their conversation in a civilized way, but Loki’s verbal abuse provokes them and they pay back his slander. In this first quarrel, the insidiousness is mainly related to the past when the gods now involved in the quarrel were young or younger. There is no future in the quarrel just the past view in the light of the present. Furor grows among the guests in the hall, and Loki’s frenzy gets out of hand. He begins the quarrel by ridiculing Bragi in a malicious way and accuses the female gods of salacity and nymphomania. In the end he has worked himself up and brags of having brought about Balder’s death in order to hurt Frigg, who has followed up on the quarrel between Loki and Óðinn, i.e.Frigg’s husband. Since Loki’s method is provocation he depends on the guests: if they don’t talk or reproach him, he cannot respond because he needs stimulation in order to turn the screw. He doesn’t argue, he points out. That is why he has not said anything to Vidar or Sif (the last member of the leading family) and would indeed have had nothing further to say, if Freyja had not addressed him from the other side of the room.

Fig 01

The second quarrel scene (st. 29 to 56) has a different attitude to quarrelling because Loki is already furious and unable to stop abusing the gods. The gods argue that since the present is very awarding what happened in the past is of little importance because the intentions were good. In the opinion of the gods, Loki, instead of revealing his mischievous behavior, ought to worry about his future.
Three of the gods explicitly mentions the future: Freyia, Freyr and Skaði – and they do it in the beginning in the middle and in the end of the quarrel repeating and escalating their threats.

Fig 02

The gods, moreover, are reasoning, taking facts into consideration and making arguments. They explain situations. Loki on the other hand continues to indicate, remind and reveal what he considers to be facts that happened in an unspecified past. Only later does he speak of the future; when speaking to Freyr he draws a conclusion concerning his antagonist. A little later answering Skaði he admits to his own future. Similar to the first scene, the second also comes to an end when Loki cannot refrain from pointing out that he has killed someone – in this case Skaði’s father.

The two old couples, Óðinn & Frigg and Niǫrðr & Skaði, have similar and complementary parts to act. They are a little above the basest wrangle and Loki’s favorite accusations. Their strophes (st. 21&23 and 33&35) reflect their character, and neither Óðinn nor Niǫrðr denies or regret the past (st. 23 and 35). There is progression in self-confidence from Óðinn to Niǫrðr. Moreover, and contrary to Loki, they evaluate their life and find their masculine faults and shortcomings minor compared to Loki’s generic subordinate femininity and birth giving, in effect his bisexuality. They radiate liberal fairness befitting the head of a successful family (st. 21 and 33), nevertheless, they point out the absolute social limits and Loki does not object (st. 23 and 33). Taken together their strophes portray the mature and successful hall owner.

Frigg as well as Skaði, interrupts and summarizes the gods’ main point in each their part of the quarrel and comparing the strophes reveals how the wrangle has progressed and shifted its emphasis: ‘Let bygone be bygone’ says Frigg in st. 25 and ‘You will soon be punished’ says Skaði in st. 49.  In fact punishment is suggested by Frigg in st. 27 and later on described by Skaði in st. 51. In their last two strophes they both speak hypothetically, consequently drawing on the reality of the present and on their own independent analytical gifts.

Loki’s insults fall in two groups sexual deviance and personal wretchedness. Gradually the insults add up to an impressive set. Loki seeks to demonstrate that Niǫrðr’s family is depraved and that his followers are wretched.

Fig 03

The future, to begin with a theme pursued by the gods rather than Loki, becomes more pregnant in the quarrel and it is obvious that Loki is not as specific in his description of the future as the gods.

Fig 04

The gods deny some of the facts presented by Loki and base their arguments on others. Although they answer Loki in their second strophe quarrelling with him, they also address the other hall guests, because the audience must also be exposed to some common-sense hall arguments similar to the sense some of the women of the first part of the quarrel tried to talk into Loki and Bragi.


The strophes 53 to 65 make up two scenes (st. 53 to 56 and 57-65) staging the dénouement of the drama. Similar to the strophes 6 to 10, strophes 53 to 56 form a transition.

Since tense situations are not uncommon in halls, the function of the lady with the mead cup is to be a mediator – Sif, the cup and the mead being irresistible. Understanding the importance of this point in the dialogue, the prose informs us that Loki drinks from the cup. In the performance this commonplace and silent response to the offer takes time and we can imagine the audience waiting to see whether Sif’s gesture will affect Loki’s behavior. It does and does not, but he loses his frenzy and soon brute force in the form of Þórr enters the scene and threatens to kill him. Loki, who hasn’t employed fate and future destiny as consequently as the Æsir, tries too late to do so, but cannot intimidate Þórr, and has to leave. From time to time, for all its civilization, life in the hall needs brute force and executive power to solve its problems – in Lokasenna as well as Beowulf.

Before Loki leaves the hall he recites the poem’s last strophe turning to the silent Ægir – the man who complies with the Æsirs’ rule – and tells him what his fate will be: “Ægir, you who brewed the beer, you shall never again arrange a drinking bout (sumbl); everything that you own in here, the flames will play with and burn you in the back.” This is a horrible prophecy inasmuch as archaeologically speaking we know of many destroyed Pre Carolinginan Iron Age halls, but not of anyone burnt down. Setting fire to PCIA halls would seem to be as morally difficult as later on setting fire to a church. It stands to reason that it their role as ritual buildings saved halls from being set fire to. We may not immediately recognize the sumbl in Lokasenna a ritual gathering (the verb sumbla means to gather), but toasting and beer drinking, nevertheless, had ritual components. Sabotaging a traditional sumbl may thus be significant misconduct befitting Loki’s character. Telling someone that his hall will be burnt down and he himself forced to flee the burning building, is in other words outrageous and will in all probability silence the audience, because in this case it implies to the subdued that hobnobbing with the Æsir will end in that kind of catastrophe. The play therefore runs from silence to silence – from embarrassment to embarrassment. If we are into post-colonial theory, the Æsir represent the colonial power, Loki the colonized people, and Ægir the go-between.


Not surprisingly, all roles except Loki’s are conventional hall characters for better or for worse. The allegations and the vice, although not pure phantasy, is mostly Loki’s making and his role as an early mad provocative prince is the only one that needs interpretation.

Lokasenna is a hall critical poem performed in a hall by gods who express mundane, sometimes deplorable, but none the less, and given the setting, hall-typical sentiments in an undignified manner. By implication, therefore, what happened in Ægir’s hall might as well have happened in the very hall where the play happened to be performed. In this, potentially conflicting setting, the historical dimension becomes important, for the simple reason that anchoring the drama in the past, i.e. the mid-millennium period of social transformation – in times Beowulfian and Pre-Carolingian – is what makes the play possible. The hall as such is a mundane phenomenon surviving the Late Roman Iron Age until this very day. It has developed over the centuries before the play was staged and in tandem the gods, being the gods of the present, added to their original character. We cannot be sure how, but given the many opaque references to the early life of the Æsir, it would seem that a number of mythological references have lost their importance making the dialogue and its allegations as difficult to understand for the uneducated reader as a play by Shakespeare. Be this as it may, adding up all the mythological clues present in the poetic Edda and associated poems, medieval sagas and comments, to a sum representing the coherent mythology of Loki, Óðinn, Niǫrðr etc. seems an idle occupation. It is much more important to understand that although the dialogue was tailored to fit a hall that existed in 9-10th century Norway, but didn’t survive in Iceland, the core of the criticism in the play – deconstructing the discrete charm of the Pre Carolingian Iron Age aristocracy – would have had an Early Medieval audience in Iceland despite orthodox Christian criticism of this kind of entertainment.

Exposing the double standard applied to life in the hall and life outside it, is Loki’s main pursuit. He fields verbal abuse to confront the hall guests with the stained sexual moral and lost sense of honour in men as well as in women because it makes the double standard evident. The moral high grounds of hall life, represented by way life unfolds itself on the benches in the side aisles and on the hall owner’s dais cannot lift the guests or the alleged hall owner Óðinn/ Ægir above the dishonest and immoral ways in which they pursue power where and whenever they think they can get away with it.

Loki is not a reformer; he aims only to expose the vice. And since PCIA life in the hall goes on every day in the same high-flown and hollow way, he has only to enter what happens to be a sumbl and ask for a seat and a something to drink, which he knows the temporary hall owner is obliged to give him, in order to expose the hall guests’ double moral standard and prove that they do not adhere to any ‘claims of the ideal’.
If we stick to the dialogue itself it would seem that Loki’s sentiments reflect his conviction that Óðinn, contrary to what he ought to have done, has given the victory to people who didn´t deserve it. If cowards such as his son Bragi can come out on top, then your warrior ideal is rotten. Óðinn, however, considers his granting the victory to the lesser men a minor problem compared Loki’s shortcomings (st. 22-23). Loki brings this theme into the next quarrel where he makes a point of exposing the lack of martial capability that signify the younger members of the second family – Niǫrðr similar to Óðinn being too old to fit the category ‘fighting men’. Looking at the ‘victorious’ men in the hall, it becomes apparent that Óðinn has given the victory to the unworthy warriors and consequently to himself. To themselves these physically and mentally unable or inferior men have the great advantage of being peaceful and able to profit from their power position and thrive in civilized hall life.

If fighting in Loki’s Eddic world is one way of interacting with each other especially involving men, intercourse is another. If bravery is supposed to characterize the first, hetero-normative decency is meant to guide the other. Fighting tests the individual in an open and complex social context difficult to escape. Intercourse tests the individual in an intimate sphere where secrecy and cover is often an immoral option.

Ideally, the hall is intended to be the interface between public and the private spheres and meant to exhibit and idealize the intimate sphere of the hall owner’s family life, as well as the open context in which the he rules his land and people, in ideal settings and terms. Things and thing assemblies obviously changed the importance of the hall. A paragon of society, deconstructing bravery and decency in the hall by pointing out cowardice and vice is a model way to criticize society and the ruling classes of any hall-governed realm. This at least was the case in the PCIA. But when the hall becomes commonplace as rulers become fewer, things assemblies more important and hall life mundane when its sacred sphere moved into a building of its own in the CIA (cf. OtRR 5 March, 2012), halls became less important. Since the hall was no longer a paragon of society it eventually became the dwelling space of the idle. Loki is right, but the society he criticizes has already seized to exist.

When he analyzed bravery in Ægir’s hall he considered himself a better man than the others prominent guests, but when it comes to the intimate sphere and sexual behavior, he must eventually point out that ‘this (vice) we must mention if in a precise way we shall speak about our sins’. (St. 52). He hasn’t denied or covered up his own moral shortcomings and crimes in the intimate world, and we may thus extract from the strophes all that must be confessed, against the backdrop of old man Niǫrðr’s patronizing ideas about women, expressed in a period of his life when he was in all probability more often attracted to beer and sumbl than to women:  ‘It is of little importance what women do with men – whoring or otherwise.’  (St. 33). Niǫrðr obviously speaks like a ‘modern’ hall owner with no sacred or ritual obligations, and indeed, being a guest and a member of a kin that has lost its autonomy, his obligations are few.


When it comes to erotic pleasures, grey zones and deviance in the intimate sphere of human interaction there seems to be no progression in the dialogue other than the fact that Loki draws, and wants himself and his sins to be drawn into this sphere. The actual cases make up a series of examples with no inner logic or progression, but the descriptions, aided by the performance, appeal to the imagination of the audience and they mirror Loki. When Iðunn’s man-hunting nymphomania is said to be so great that she desired to make love to her brother’s murderer, Loki has a case, but the description on the other hand, what Loki says, is crucial: ‘When I saw that you embraced your brother’s murderer with your shining (i.e. naked) arms, I knew that you were the most ‘man-demanding’ of women’, St. 17. Likewise when we need an example of someone who is not the virgin she professes to be, Gefjon in an example, but the voyeuristic descriptions is equally important and yet an indication of how Loki got his first insight into (female) sexuality – that is by spying: ‘The white young man who gave you the jewelry made your fall and you laid your thighs around him.’, St 20. It may have looked as if Gefjon ‘fell on her back’ and Loki obviously know that, having got the jewelry, she ‘fell’ most voluntarily, but when he saw it, it looked to him as if the young ‘white’, i.e. fair-skinned and thus naked, man made her fall. To begin with, therefore, Loki describes what he has seen. Later on he mostly tells us what he has heard, relating what is commonly known, for instance that every man in the halls has been Freyja’s lover, St. 30. Shutting up Heimdallr, Loki paints the soaked guard forever keeping watch in the rain: ‘your repugnant life was arranged from the beginning time: you were meant to become the gods’ watchman with your back drenched, St. 48.  The audience will understand that Heimdallr’s situation had but a little room for a sex life. In the end Loki simply states the fact that Skaði was happy to make love to him (although she was, perhaps, unaware of his character).

In the end Loki’s sexuality and that of the two other gods of his generation, Óðinn and Niǫrðr stand out as traumatic and part of the explanation has to do with the life they led when they were young. Something Frigg, who knows all, thinks it best not to dwell upon.

In strophe 52, when we have acquainted ourselves with the sins of the hall guests, the play needs a break and Sif appears on the scene offering Loki a cup of beer. This is a normal thing for the young leading lady with the mead cup to do during a sumbl, but in the context Sif seems to come from another world. Loki suggests quite vaguely that she has been unfaithful to Þórr and because of the logic of the play, this accusation, which the audience may well have believed to be untrue, is what calls back Þórr driving Loki out of the hall, as he should have been driven out in the first place had Þórr, the not-so-fantastically-tender new hall owner, been at home. There is no room for old gods in the new halls of the CIA—a fact demonstrated not least by the performance we have just seen in the hall itself. The modern CIA hall is a mundane place where PCIA trauma can be no more than the stuff of dramatic dialogue – entertaining and perhaps thought-provoking.

Loki is a traumatized and mentally damaged person who destroys himself almost losing his senses, but in so doing he manages to point out the double standard of the hall dwellers. All the things unthinkable in Beowulf, at best vaguely hinted, are spelled out in Lokasenna. And although the hall-governed society in Beowulf has its problem it solves them because of loyal heroes such as Beowulf and chaste women such as Wealhtheow. The Beowulfian society brakes down because its heroes are not Christians, not because there is something fundamentally wrong with their moral. In Lokasenna on the other hand we see all its faults.

Writing down Beowulf would seem to happen in a society interested in defending the moral values of newly Christianized kings – probably a concern of the Church in view of future cooperation. Lokasenna would seem to criticize this society from a pagan perspective having not yet replaced the pagan society with a Christian one. Performing Beowulf, reciting it in the hall, is thus a very controlled situation. Performing Skírnismál or Lokasenna is a vibrant situation full of innuendo mirroring local rather than central attitudes to social life. The dialogue use characters and performance that have not yet been recast to fit a new ideological model. Compared to Beowulf, which is marked by an Early Medieval Christian attitude to the past, the dialogues are genuinely pre-Medieval and marked by pagan revision. From the point of view of cultural history Skírnismál and Lokasenna, contrary to Beowulf, are untouched by the approaching Christian Cultural Revolution.

It takes quite a number of actors to perform the dialogue and few guests would agree to be associated with most of the roles. Sif and Þórr, however, could be performed by amateurs or the actual hall owner and his wife, and Eldir could be himself, but the rest would benefit from being professionals or at least not guests. Serfs could do the silent roles and most of the small speaking parts. Loki, nevertheless, must be a professional because there are several quarrels going on at the same time and because his personality consists of many conflicting characters, which must be performed. If you had access to more professionals, one and the same person could act several roles, one man more men and one woman more women, or one actor could play both Eldir and Loki and Eldir be silent. Such a practice would turn the dialogue towards the burlesque. Nevertheless, the balance between the satirical and the serious is an issue and eventually silent reading became the prevailing practice.

There is a great point in having the local poet laureate compose the dialogue and the real hall owner and his wife take part in the performance because it will legitimize the dialogue and convince us about the historical setting and its distance to the present. If most of the actors were not guests, they could be seated in the hall to begin with and occupy the most prominent seats making the real guests wonder what was going on. When the performance was over, the actors would leave their seats and the actual guests, who would have guessed that some sort of entertainment was being planned when the front benches were already taken, would move into the empty seats and indulge in commenting on Loki’s part, performance, the dark ages, rulers and finer mythological points. If Lokasenna is staged in the hall its intellectual and artistic facets multiply, and staging it is a very good way of beginning a sumbl not least because the dialogue anticipates what might happen at a sumbl. ‘You are drunk’ is a popular statement in the poem.

It goes without saying that this kind of integrated theater is an art from in its own right especially suited for small rural population dispersed in niches far between, however, with easy communications. It is genuinely pre-Church and thus pre-Medieval.

Illu00This week On the Reading Rest I have an edition of the Eddic poem Lokasenna, but most importantly:
Gunnell, Terry. 1995. The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. D. S. Brewer, Cambridge.
I abbreviate the book title TOoDiS [too´dis]

Hárbarðsljóð, Fáfnismál, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál and Lokasenna make up the five dialogical poems singled out by Terry Gunnel in his analysis of The Eddic Poems and Drama (TOoDiS:182 ff.). All five dialogues may be staged in a hall, but the three last ones, Vafþrúðnismál, Skírnismál and Lokasenna, are the most obvious hall dialogues since in my opinion they can easily, but not necessarily, make active use of the hall room itself as a scene upon which part of the plot depends. Similar to Beowulf these poems are about life in the hall in which they may also take place. Skírnismál has already figured On the Reading Rest, 1 & 29 October, 2012, and the only thing added to the analysis compared to Terry Gunnell’s is an emphasis on the scene, i.e. the archaeological Norwegian hall of the Carolingian Iron Age – Borg in Lofoten being a case in point. Looking at the poems as plays putting them into a wider context, obviously change their meaning – nevertheless there is a point in analyzing their structure (0).

In his analysis Terry Gunnell shows that in Lokasenna the prose sections – the introduction and the conclusion as well as the few lines inserted between the strophes  – are extraneous(TOoDiS:229) or indeed superfluous and even confusing because the prose sometimes contradicts what we are told in the strophes.

Illu00bSimilarly, the speaker indications in the margins (often cut away from the sheets) once added for the benefit of the silent reader (TOoDiS:212), are problematic because they sabotage the oral performance of the poem making it unnecessary to imagine the characters involved in the narrative, i.e. the wrangle among the Æsir. The poem has been called Loka-senna, ‘Loki’s verbal duel’, but might as well be termed Loki’s wrangling or ‘the Loki kerfuffle’ because in the strophes Loki stands out at a first glance as no more than a dystopian drunk who has taken it upon him to expose the faults of his peers and annoy them. The scene is a genuine beer bash hubbub, Loki is a model of bad behaviour and the whole scene an embarrassing, albeit hardly unknown, hall situation. The format of talk is not to be expected in better halls, such as the Beowulfian King Hrothgar’s Heorot, but nonetheless imaginable. If we cut away the prose, the strophes stand out as a coherent dialogic composition, a mundane critique of the hall-governed society in the shape of a travesty.

Instead of the comic dimension and the irony, which may easily be heard when the strophes are recited, the prose emphasizes a sapient and general approach to and criticism of the pagan mythology and pantheon, rather than the character of the Æsir, and the trauma, and the attitudes they air. The speaker indications punctuate the flow of the narrative enabling the reader to pinpoint a specific utterance deconstructing the dialogue rather than elucidating the general structure of a dialogue that “lends itself particularly well to dramatic production” (cf. TOoDiS:245&247).Terry Gunnell concludes that the  editor of Codex Regius and the manuscript AM 748, in which Lokasenna is included, and those who produced the manuscripts, were aware of the dramatic and performative character of the dialogue (TOoDiS:281). Let’s read the strophes as they stand in the vein of TOoDiS – as a play write’s manuscript – without taking the prose into consideration.

To perform Lokasenna as a play takes no less than 19 actors – 17 speaking parts and two silent ones. Ordered in a table after the length of the roles in strophes and first appearance of the character the cast looks like this:

Since Loki is the only actor to recite two strophes in a row – two times as it were – he actually has half the lines. ‘Shut up’—þigi þú is his favorite imperative when he can think of no better way to begin an answer.

Although most of the party takes place in Ægir’s hall and although Ægir brewed the beer for the beer bash, i.e. the Norse sumbl, his role in the party is minimal and silent. Instead Oðinn presides over the hall and the sumbl as the host. We must conclude therefore that Oðinn in his capacity as the supreme ruler is visiting one of his vassals, automatically becoming the principle hall owner and overlord. We are in other words visiting a hall somewhere in the provincial outskirts of a realm.

There are three acts or parts in the play: to begin with we hear Loki and Eldir talking to each other just outside the hall room. Then Loki enters, and probably the servant Eldir too because, given his name, he looks after the fire. Eldir is one of Ægir´s thralls and consequently not verbally abused by Loki, who is content mildly to reprove him. When Loki enters the hall he starts speaking politely, but then he points out to the guests that have all felt silent and wonders why. Questioning their awkward silence is enough to provoke the self-assured Bragi starting a quarrel that goes on until strophe 57. IN STROPHE 58 Þórr enters the hall room threatening, four times, to kill Loki, who finds is wise to leave the hall given Þórr’s propensity eventually to use his hammer and batter him.

When Loki enters, he interacts first with the most prominent guests and they disclose themselves as an extended leading family consisting of Oðinn, Frigg, Vidar, Gefion, Bragi, and Iðunn. In the end when Sif performs her duties as the lady with the mead cup offering it to Loki just before Þórr enters, we understand that this leading family frames the kerfuffle and solves the problems as indeed it ought to, given its status.

Between Frigg in strophe 27 and Sif in strophe 53 we find the members of the second extended family: Niǫrðr, Skaði, Freyr, Freyia,Týr, Heimdallr, Byggvir and eventually Beyla. If we look at the families in a generational perspective then we can talk of a parent generation consisting of Oðinn & Frigg as well as Niǫrðr & Skaði. Their children are represented by Sif & Þórr as well as Freyr & Freyia. We may venture to consider Vidar less important or younger than the other children because his is silent and ordered about by Oðinn. At the lower part of the ranking, therefore, we find Vidar as well as Gefion, Bragi, & Iðunn on the one side, and on the other Týr & Heimdallr together with Byggvir & Beyla. Since the latter pair is Freyr’s servants they are low ranking on par with Eldir. Their low status is indicated in two ways: Loki pretend not to recognize Byggvir, and Beyla is the first to hear that Þórr approaches the hall room. She is able to hear this and tell the others because she is placed at the entrance, i.e. in the lower hall. Contrary to Eldir’s duties, Beyla’s do not require her to leave the hall; she is in other words a guest.

There are 8 members in each family, and owing to our understanding of their rank and the structure of the hall room, as well as clues in the strophes, we can reconstruct where the actors/guests are seated and how they move

The first scene is the hall before Loki enters. It seems that Oðinn with his entourage is travelling his dominions on a veizla, i.e. a touring his realm visiting his vassals, in this case Ægir, who is obliged to serve the ‘King’ and his court. For the time being, Oðinn has taken over Ægir´s hall and put himself in the hall owner’s position. And since his son Þórr is not present, it stands to reason that on the dais in the uppermost part of the hall Oðinn & Frigg as well as Sif & Ægir have taken their seats presiding over the party. In the side ailes the couples are arranged according to rank and family or household. In Asgard both Oðinn and Niǫrðr are hall owners, but being on veizla they observe their separate household spheres occupying each their side of the hall as guests arranging their followers in pairs. All in all 18 persons in 9 pairs are arranged in the hall in a Norse symposium or sumbl situation — drinking beer. It is the way the guests are arranged that reminds one of Roman ways of dining and that should no come as a surprise given that the Scandinavian hall had affinities with the Aula Sacra.

Illu01If we look at the guests as a worldly court, there are parents, children, kings, princes and consorts as well as specialists like Bragi the scald and capable executives such as Týr & Heimdallr and Þórr, who is not far off. They are matched by rural champions such as the ploughing virgin Gefion as well as the loyal servants Byggvir & Beyla, and Eldir. Into this room, filled with the discreet charm of the Iron Age aristocracy, enters Loki as a Grendel character or a mad prince. And there is method in the play and its seven scenes.

Illu02The first scene, strophes 1-5, Eldir and Loki are speaking to each other just outside the hall room, and the guests, who have been bad-mouthing Loki, fall silent as they hear the conversation.








In the next scene Loki enters the hall and asks the hospitality of host and guests and to sit down and drink beer with them since he has travelled far. This standard request is difficult not to grant in a hall – i.e. the building which represents the interface between the private and the public and a space in which the hall owner shows his qualities as a good host and just ruler.





In the third scene Bragi starts to reproach Loki, but the well-behaved Oðinn acts fast and honourably, asking his son Vidar to give room for Loki.








In the fourth scene, Loki who has got a seat amidst the members of the leading family, lets loose his bad temper abusing Bragi, who sitting closer to the high seat than Loki and having observed Oðinn‘s behaviour tries to come to terms with him. One by one Loki insults the members of leading family to his left and right when they try to talk some sense into him. His audience consists of the members of the second family, the frontbenchers sitting in the other side of the hall.


The fifth scene begins when Freya interrupts Loki’s wrangling with the first family. she criticizes his bad and foolish manners. Following up on this Loki begins abusing her, and thus provoked the other members of the second family continues the quarrelling.






The sixth scene starts when Sif interrupts Loki’s quarrel with the second family. She does this in her capacity as the lady with the mead cup offering Loki something to drink in a good-humoured way. Sif has not yet been abused by Loki, but now he seizes the opportunity. While doing so, Beyla, Freyr’s servant in the lower part of the hall thinks she hears Þórr coming back and tells everybody in the hall. Since Loki has not yet told her to shut up he does so now. This means that he has succeeded in abusing all the guests that have spoken.

Illu08The last scene commences when Þórr enters the hall and starts quarrelling with Loki. Four times he shouts: ‘shut up, pervert!’ (þegi þú, rǫg vættr!) and threatening to bash, destroy and kill him with his hammer Mjǫllnir. Loki finds it wise to take his leave and in so doing he offers Ægir some prophetic Wrath piyting him rather than scolding him.






.  In a number of articles Terry Gunnell has developed his analysis of dialogical poems as staged plays in different spatial settings, stressing the interplay between actors and audience as well as mythology. He points to the theatrical qualities of the poems linking them to indoor and outdoor scenes as well as sacred and liminal situtuations  (cf. Gunnell, T 2006, ‘“Til holts ek gekk . . .” The performance demands of Skírnismál, Fáfnismál and Sigrdrífumál in liminal time and sacred space’. In Andrén et al (eds). Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives, Lund: Nordic Academic Press:238–42; or Gunnell, T 2008, ‘The performance of the Poetic Edda’. In Brink and Price (eds), The Viking World. London and New York: Routledge:299–303.).

Putting the performance of poems such as Skírnismál or Lokasenna into a more mundane hall setting suggests no more than different readings and interpretations of the dialogues, for instance with an emphasis on travesty or irony in a historical setting, rather than mythological drama. This is unproblematic – the one does not exclude the other — inasmuch as it a quality inherent to the theatrical performance that it may fit several interpretation. Indeed the edited versions we read in the Older Edda, strophes framed and interlaced with prose as well as structured by speaker indications, are interpretations befitting the silent 13th c reader.

The performative and dramatic qualities of Eddic poems was pointed out already by Phillpotts, B. 1920. The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. Recently, Neil Price (Price, N. 2010. Passing into Poetry: Viking-Age Mortuary Drama and the Origins of Norse Mythology. Medieval Archaeology, 54:23-56.) has discussed Scandinavian drama in the Carolingian Iron Age and linked it firmly to the ritual scenes of mortuary practice.


To write c. 1500 words because one is not satisfied with the usual translation of an Old Norse word, a poetic kenning to be precise, is probably a sign of being bored by the view from the room of one’s own in the ivory tower (Humanities Tower No 60 in the lates World Ranking), so bored in fact that leaving room, let alone tower, is no alternative.

Nevertheless, Old Norse verse is interesting because it is complex and sometimes difficult to understand. We gather that the opaque meaning is important and this has led us to translate the strophes. First we start by translating the words. In this case it is a strophe of Þjóðólfr of Hvinir’s (c. 855-930 CE) i.e. Thjodolf.

text 00

When we know the words that Thjodolf used to convey his message we may start to condense and reduce its metaphors and kennings (a kenning is a metaphoric paraphrase). We do so because we think that some clarity may be needed. Reducing Thjodolf’s poetic expressions we draw on a scholarly textual tradition and start to simplify Thjodolf’s metaphors and paraphrases. And when we are at it why not bring the series of events described by Thjodolf into some sort of chronological order.

text 01

At this stage in the condensation, arinkjól, which is a relatively difficult kenning, is always translated ‘house’ (i.e. reduced to house) because Snorri Sturluson in Ynlinga Saga informs us in plain words that Visbur perished when the building where he lived was set on fire. True to his method Snorri backs up his own simplicity in Ynglinga Saga by quoting Thjodolf’s complexity in one of the strophes from Ynglingatal – and we become confident that arinkjól means ‘house’.

And we proceed:

text 02

And we may continue to clarifyi the strophe a bit more:

text 03

But we may as well stop here because we have already proved beyond doubt to ourselves that Thjodolf’s complexity covers something commonplace and seemingly an obsession with fire and repetition.

Nevertheless, it is a good rule of the thumb to ask ourselves, when we have reduced the past to the commonplace and its verses to art for fart’s sake, whether this can really be true. Did Thjodolf perhaps have an agenda when he chose his kennings and metaphors? Do they mean more than simply fire, son, body and house? Perhaps there are kennings and metaphors to explain, and a choice of poetic expression to discuss in relation to the material culture of the past and its reality.

In the strophe, kennings and metaphors come in pairs, but it will nevertheless be rewarding to begin by seeing them as two parallel series.

Vísburs vilja byrgi = Vilbur’s will fence /will’s fence  is the place where his mind and soul is enclosed and thus his body. But it must not be forgotten that archaeologically speaking the fence is also typical of the farm –  surrounding its buildings and yards. Around manors or a King’s residence fences are impressive and protective in a definite rather than formal way.

meinþjóf markar = the forest’s mean thief. This is fire. Mark means the wood, but not any wood. Rather it is the wood that delimits the settled area (the forested borderlands, i.e. the ‘mark’ we know from Den-mark – the border lands of the Danes). This kind of wood makes up the borders of the human landscape and since it borders on the foreign it is a little beyond our control. The fire in question is a fatal devastating event leaving but a few the black trunks standing in the smoke — long after the fire has died away.

í arinkjóli = in the hold of the hearth. In the Carolingian Iron Age, the hall with its slightly arched central ridge and convex long walls looks like a boat turned upside down. And there are similarities also in the way house and boat building were perceived. Since the hearth is placed on the floor, enlightening the hall room and its open roof construction, as if the floor was the deck of the upside down boat, it is possible to see the sloping inner roof of the hall as the hold of the ship. The word kjól means keel, but since ‘sailing on a loose keel’ means sailing with an empty ship, and since the preposition used here is ‘í’, i.e. ‘in’, kjól is also a metaphor for the space below the deck, i.e. the hold. Since the hall room may at times be empty or filled by (a cargo of) guests  arinkjól is a befittting kenning. In the manor, the hearth, moreover, is the centre of the hall, which means that this kenning brings us into Virbur’s hall, where he would be sitting in the high seat – Royal and content.

sævar niðr, the brother of the sea. The giant of the sea/water was Hle (Ægir). His brother, who was in charge of fire, was called Loge, i.e. Flame. Describing the fire in this way makes the verb ‘swallow‘ very appropriate because similar to water the fire as an element can be seen to swallow people when they disappear in the flames – in ‘a sea of fire’ – similar to people disappearing in the waves.

setrs verjendr, the defenders of the (high)seat (‘seat’ being a metaphor also for the residence). In this case the defenders are Visbur’s sons, Gisl and Åndur. Visbur left them and his wife their mother, when they were small children. She went back to her wealthy father with her sons and they were brought up abroad (i.e. not in Old Uppsala where Visbur is supposed to live). It is thus from the outside that these brothers return to defend their throne, which they suppose will be occupied or usurped by their junior half-brother Domnald. Since Gisl and Åndur are the heirs closest to the throne they defend it when necessary. The reason why they settle for ‘arson defence’ is not crystal clear – i.e. not sanctioned by the Security Council and the UN. Thus, by choosing this kenning Thjodolf gives us a glimpse of Gisl and Åndur’s rhetoric. Their foreignness is also implied by their names which means ‘ski pole’ and ‘ski’.

Gisl and Åndur

glóða garmr, the glow hound. Because dogs and hounds may be aggressive and dangerous attackers, the glow hound may well be a metaphor for the aggressive fire. However, when the magnate is sitting in his hall his dog is there too on the floor in the side aisle next to the hearth, and usually and ideally, but not in this case, the Master’s control of the beast is total.


If we are not aware of the way kenning and metaphor interact, mirror and develop the poetic understanding of Visbur’s fate, we miss something important and run the risk of making the past as simple minded as our translation of it. This is a mistake and one such is the usual translation of arinkjól ashouse’ rather than ‘hall’ or ‘hallroom’. Seen from the ivory tower, this is a grave mistake sabotaging Thjodolf’s careful poetic construction, its kennings and metaphors.

The three kenning+metaphor pairs, become more difficult and important to understand when Thjodolf zooms in on the very spot where Visbur, content in his high seat and hall behind his fence, understands that he has lost control and realizes that he will soon be swallowed by the fire. Thjodolf takes us from (1) the common fact that people can be burnt in fires when at home, i.e. behind their fences, over (2) the specific historical situation – i.e. the fateful retaliation brought about from abroad by the wronged sons that he once abandoned to (3) Visbur in his hall. The sons employ a foreign and brutal method befitting their father and worthy of their revenge. The contrast between Visbur and the dog — disturbed in their fenced hall content, and the inflated rhetoric of the seat-defending sons attacking from the woods, brings us in close contact with the attitudes of the antagonists and their character.

It has been pointed out before, but deserves to be repeated: conventional translations of skaldic verse belittle poets such as Thjodolf of Hvin. He may be accused of being too intellectual and perhaps he introduced setrs verjendr too bluntly, and perhaps this kenning is too ironic, but he is a better poet than most of his translators. And arinkjól doesn’t mean ‘House’.

“Æschere my ‘run-knower’ is dead!” bewails King Hrothgar in Beowulf. His lament springs to mind this week when On the Reading Rest I have a re-reading of the inscription, in the old futhark, on the 5th c. rune stone from Tune in Østfold, south-southeast of Oslo. Known to scholars since the 1620s it has been re-read before (00).

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.

Tune is strategically situated in a farmland area somewhat withdrawn from the Oslo Fjord to which there is nevertheless easy access on the river Glommen.



The total distribution of the ancient monuments allows us to see the varying settlement density in the Tune area.

Fig 00

Eythórsson, Thórhallur. 2013. Three daughters and a funeral: Rereading the Tune inscription. Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies 3 (2012). Pp 7-43.

Knowing what he is up against when re-reading the inscription, Thórhallur Eythórsson (ThórEy) quotes the First Law of Runo-Dynamics attributed to the archaeologist David M Wilson: for every inscription there shall be as many interpretations as there are scholars working on it. Since archaeologists are used to handling a large, growing, badly preserved and varying source material, they are forced to agree on interpretations that are practical rather than formal. Thus having themselves given up on irrefutable knowledge, archaeologists can easily supply the Second Law: for every scholarly repetition of the true meaning of an inscription it shall be less likely that it is found out.

Runo-Dynamics therefore contradict Oscar Wilde’s unbent positivism when he reminds us that even the obvious may be proved and that telling the truth one is sure, sooner or later, to be found out.

Taking Oscar Wilde at face value runologists embark on a pursuit, a quest for the true meaning of a text, despite the fact that meaning will always deceive the huntsman. In pursuit of meaning, the laws of Runo-Dynamics will always escalate the demands on reading and re-reading texts when trying fully to understand them.

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

The tune stone was found by the church, i.e. next to a main road in the area

In pursuit of meaning ThórEy comes close to breaking these laws because he agrees with a number of earlier interpretations, which stand out as simply true and in no need of a renewed scientific discussion – nota bene ‘stand out’. We mustn’t not be surprised when it becomes obvious that since the late 1800s as shown by ThóEy, there has been little simple progress in the understanding of the inscription. On the contrary, clever linguistic and philological detours have been many and confusing. They are the ones that have to be weeded out.
From an archaeological point of view, ThórEy’s re-reading has the advantage of defending the probable against the improbable, thus bringing the text into the realm of Archaeo-Dynamism declaring all interpretations equal and some more equal than others.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy's interpretation.

Since the 1620s, three words are missing from the partly damaged rune stone. We need a reconstruction meeting ThórEy’s interpretation.

This means that in ThórEy’s re-reading there are three statements on the stone. Owing to its preservation, some parts, represented by italics, are less obvious than others. To begin with, I present the three statements in no specific order and translate them in two ways: clumsily word by word and well, i.e. quoting ThórEy:

Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide
Wiwaz for Woduridaz : the stone : set up
NN (Wiwaz?) erected the stone for Woduridaz (ThórEy’s translation)

ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz
I Wiwaz after (and for) Woduridaz, the keeper of bread, wrought the runes
I Wiwaz wrought the runes in memory of Woduridaz, the breadward (ThóEy’s translation)

thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano
three daughters divided (between them) the inheritance (they were) the ownest of heirs (i.e. the heirs closest to the deceased himself)
Three daughters shared the inheritance, the closest family heirs (ThóEy’s translation).

On the Tune stone archaeologists see three related phenomena: a statement concerning the runes we read, a statement on inheritance and a statement about the creation of the monument. We understand that Woduridaz, a pillar of society, has died and that his three daughters were his closest heirs. A man called Wiwaz wrought the runes commemorating Woduridaz and set up the monument. Since Wiwaz stands out as a capable man, we may expect that he was remembered for what he did. Similarly, the daughters were probably remembered for being their father’s daughters. It may be said that Wiwaz pushed for himself and for the daughters too, but rather than being controversial, the statements impress us as factual and straightforward.
Since agency, personal qualifications and social position matter, it is fair to point out that the name Woduridaz means ‘mind rider’ adding a nimble intellectual quality to the responsible man who keeps the bread, with an eye to sharing it. Witada-halaiban is a proto Norse composite for the Anglo-Saxon ’hláford’, hláf+weard = bread+warder, i.e. Modern English  ‘lord’. This was argued in a model almost law-breaking discussion by Otto v. Friesen in Arkiv för nordisk filologi vol 16 1900:191-200.

There is only one Iron Age Woduridaz, but Wiwaz belongs to a small series of names (Wiwaz, Wiwlian and Wiwio) designating those whose common denominator is ‘rushing forward’. Being Wiwaz befits a doer and both names may thus be cognomens inasmuch as they may be flattering nicknames – not least the composite Wodu+ridaz. They may also indicate the distribution of roles among kinsmen favouring names, even nicknames, on W. In that case Wiwaz wasn’t Woduridaz’ son, but he might have been a brother.

Because ThórEy has been able to read the text favouring a straightforward and indeed uncomplicated meaning, the archaeologist, having seen the names as meaningful in the way a beholder may find them meaningful without knowing for sure, may also continue and look at the stone as a combination of (1) epigraphy and (2) literary form. Epigraphy falls into two parts. One (1:1) concerns the way the texts should be read from the beginning to the end, the other (1:2) concerns its composition. I will deal with 1:1-2 before I turn to (2), the question of literary form.


Reading the obverse, i.e. the front signified by the large runes in two centrally placed lines, one would stand a little to the left looking at the text from an oblique angle reading it from the onset downwards and up again to the very top of the stone, which has become so narrow that there is room for one line only: ek Wiwaz after Woduride witadahalaiban worahto runoz. One need not read more than the obverse, but if, because the text ends at the very top of the stone, one thinks that here may be more to the read on the back side, one must take a step backwards and to the left in order to see the reverse. Here there is once again an obvious onset from which one reads downwards and then upwards again to the end of the second statement: thrijoz dohtriz dalidun arbija sijostez arbijano. Apparently there is a third line on the back side, but in order to read that, one shall have to take a step forward and turn around thus standing next to the left side of the stone reading the line in the right side from the bottom and upwards: Wiwaz Woduride : staina : satide. The epigraphic order is practical, relatively clear and meaningful. The function of the last statement is to bring the inscription to an end, making it clear that there is nothing more to say when the first two statements have been said. They in their turn are presented in a practical order: first we understand that Woduridaz is dead, then (as a secondary fact and thus on the back side) we learn that his death produced heirs. We have been told something about Woduridaz’ character, and have been pointed to the slightly odd fact that his heirs were three daughters.

The statement on inheritance is in agreement with Tacitus description of a man’s closest heirs: Heredes tamen successoresque sui cuique liberi, et nullum testamentum. Si liberi non sunt, proximus gradus in possessione fratres, patrui, avunculi.–Heirs, nevertheless, and successors (are) his own children and no will (is made). If there are no children, the next in rank to possess (the inheritance) are brothers, father’s brother, mother’s brother (Tacitus Germania 20.3.). This means that if Wiwaz was Woduridaz’ brother, or one of the close relatives mentioned by Tacitus, there would be an important point in mentioning the daughters, thus stating and accepting their rights by acknowledging their status rather than his own. Originally, the Tune stone probably stood close to the place and road where it was eventually found, and it is thus not unlikely that it was once an example of the kind of memorial stones referred to in Hávamál strophe 72: sjaldan bautarsteinar standa brautu nǣr, nema reisi niþr at niþ—Seldom do memorial stones stand next to the road, if they were not raised by a kinsman commemorating his kin.

Tacitus, who may be right or wrong, wrote 300 years before Wiwaz, but rules of inheritance often have a strong tradition. In view of ThóEy’s thorough discussion, Tacitus description speaks in favour of sijostez arbijano (the closest of heirs) being a traditional way among people in Northern Europa of defining legal heirs as descendants who are entitled to inherit simply by birth right. Choosing these specific three statements and arranging them in a composition might thus have been intentional (01).

Often, when it comes to literary form in early runic inscriptions the text interacts with the medium, i.e. with the stone. This is the case in Tune. There is a message in the way the reader approaches the stone and orders the statements in a series beginning with an opening, continuing in a consequence of what has been related in the opening, and ending in a conclusion, which tells us that the commemorative monument is completed in a most suitable way. The opening on the front of the stone – written in large runes – is composed as a period consisting of two alliterating and syllable-counting well-stressed long lines with a suitable sentence intonation – a firm and short first long line and a second more rich in syllables developing and emphasizing primarily the essence of the deceased, witadahalaiban, and secondly the honorable behavior of the verse-writing Wiwaz:

ek Wiwaz after   Woduride,     (5+4 =09)
witadahalaiban   worahto runoz    (6+5=11)

Prosody is a choice, not a must: ek Wiwaz worahto runoz after Woduridu witadahalaiban, a sensible and informative prose expression, would have done the job.

The two statements on the back side take us to this kind of simple prose by way of a solemn economic and elegant expression: thrijoz dohtriz dailidun arbija, sijostez arbijano—three daughters shared the inheritance, (they were) the closest of (his) heirs.

The last statement, the most simple prose, piles the words on top of each other as a matter of fact in an almost artless way: Wiwaz Woduride staina satide. One might also have said Woduride staina Wiwaz satide or Woduride Wiwaz satide staina or Wiwaz staina Woduride satide or any other of the possible 24 word orders. Since Wiwaz is nom sing, staina acc sing, Woduride dat sing and satide 3. pers sing the meaning of the words and the sentence cannot be obscured by the word order. Actually the reason why runologists have had no problem supplying the word satide is because it is the necessary and obvious verb to the three nouns one of which must be in the nominative. Not surprisingly, all four words have heavily stressed first syllables creating a stubborn cablese beat, impossible to get rid of. The only words that could possibly be missing are: ‘Stop! Send cash!’

There is a perfect balance between the tall stone, the design, the message, the formulation, the movement of the reader and the thirty-second three-stage experience walking around the monument reading it. The composition is low-key, but significant. It stresses the deep-rooted traditional fairness, integrity and care of the mind-riding Early Iron Age bread ward, i.e. a gifted lordly member of the upper classes.


But deád is Æschere! In Beowulf King Hrothgar laments the loss of his runwita, his ‘run-knower’, brother in arms, and counsellor, killed by Grendel’s mother (cf. v 1325). In the epic this is a symbolic loss of literacy including its esoteric qualities of knowing hidden meaning, such as the non-verbal meaning of prosody. This loss is emblematic of late 5th century Scandinavia when the likes of Æschere, such as Wiwaz, stopped writing. They were the last of their kind and hard to come by for centuries.

King Hrothgar is acutely aware of having lost an old significant component of society. In bygone days, as his name and the King tell us (02), Æschere was the spear warrior standing shoulder to shoulder with the king. Like most, they were both men in the line, when the warriors clashed, spear in hand, and wisely they sought to protect their heads behind their shields. Unmediated we are told that Æschere was the older brother of Yrmenláf (eormen+láf) – an odd name signifying the ‘great’ or ‘all-comprising legacy’. ´This indicates that living up to his obligations as an older brother, he helped bringing forward Hrothgar’s glorious world, i.e. the great legacy now threatened by Grendel and his mother. Not only was Æschere instrumental in bringing about this society, he employed the intellectual skills of a counsellor and runwita in order to manage it. And now he is dead. Grendel’s mother is proud of having killed him because she knows that what Grendel meant to her, Æschere meant to Hrothgar.

(00) There is a short overview in Norwegian of the Tune area with relevant references in:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2007 Kulturmilø Tune. In: Bårdseth (ed.) Hus, gard og graver langs E6 i Sarpsborg kommune. E6-prosjektet Østfold, Band 2. Varia 66. Pp 1-6.


Although one cannot point to any large and domiant Roman Iron Age och Migration Period farm in the Tune area, the farms Missingen in Råde, just north of Tune, shows the economic possibilities of the coastland/inland border in Østfold. On Missingen, in Norwegian, see:


or in English:

Bårdseth, Gro Anita. 2009. The Roman Age Hall and the Warrior-Aristocracy: Reflections upon the Hall at Missingen, South-East Norway. Norwegian Archaeological Review, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2009. Pp 146-58.


(01) In Latin it is possible, at least for Plautus humorously, and using the archaic ipsus instead of ipse, to construct a word parallel to sijostez. In Trinummus: The Three Pieces of Money, Act iv scene 2, when Charmides is asked by Sycophanta for the fourth time Ergo ipsusne es?—Are you then himself? Charmides answers as affirmatively as possible with a superlative to ipsus, ‘own’, in the genitive: Ipsissimus—‘his ownest’, ispis+simus, i.e. his own very self. In Lewis & and Short by mistake ipsissimus is spelled ispissumus, cf. ThórEy p. 22f.

(02) Beowulf vv 1323-27: Deád is Æschere, // Yrmenláfes    yldra broþor, // 1325 min rúnwita     ond min rædbora, // eaxlgestealla,     ðonne we on orlege // hafelan weredon,     þonne hniton feþan—Dead is Æschere Yrmenláf’s older brother, my runwita and my counsellor, he stood next to my shoulder when in battle we protected our heads when the men clashed.

This week On the Reading Rest I have a book from which I have taken a general approach to the central part of the poem Skírnismál, i.e. Act II (0).

Brook, Peter. 2011. The Enigmas of Identity. Princeton University Press.

From Peter Brook I borrow two concepts that bracket his analysis and discussion – the initial concepts of ‘Identity’ and ‘identification’ introduced in To Begin and the concluding concepts ‘the Identity paradigm’ and ‘the identificatory paradigm’ introduce in Epilogue: the Identity Paradigm. Peter Brook sees these concepts as emblematic of modern human beings and the ways they experience protagonists, and themselves, through novels, biographies, plays or electoral campaigns. Since Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) is a first identity case, ‘modern’ refers to the common post Enlightenment-, not least ‘today’-sense, of the term.

It may seem odd to apply such a concept when reading an Old Norse poem, but I allow myself to do just that because I think that ‘modern’, rather than signifying the last 250 years of European and North American reality, mirrors an attitude in which the analysis of the present and presence, rather than the past, guides our understanding and manipulation of the future. There is no absolute chronology of ‘the modern’, because the need for modernity is relative.

More importantly, I allow myself to adapt Peter Brooks’ view on identity as a notion that evades traditional definition: contrary to being delimited and fixed, identity is a social psychological concept, as basic as the ‘I’, insisting on being changed according to context. When we interrogate individuals trying to define their identity and when we interact with significant others, the identity of all those involved is changed. Despite these insights, our social norms often presuppose the definite identification of someone, and the problem of identity, therefore, stems from the fact that although it is a historical concept, changing during a time series of contexts, it is nevertheless forced now and again to become modern and nothing but present.

Furthermore, I allow myself to think of Peter Brooks’ paradigm turn as the introduction of a non-Kuhnean grammar-like structure that we apply when we want to relate to ourselves and others through fiction.

Analyzing Skírnir in Skínismál, the Identity Paradigm becomes important because it prompts the question: who is he and for whom does he woo? And since the poem is critical of the upper classes and their identities it also asks: who are they, the upper classes? The time depth in Skírnismál is ‘a present’, and the possibility that it is set in the present of a once-upon-a-time past, signifies that in itself such a past has nothing to teach us, since it is no more than a present anchored in time. Modernity happens to complicate identity and identification.

As we read Act II (1) our concerns for Skírnir grows and we wonder about his personal identity, his class identity and whether he can be identified. In act I & II the dialogue technique, using a two- or three-stanza pattern, and the minor characters Skaði, Horse, Shepherd and Maid, are needed to develop the competent character of the protagonist. But when that has been accomplished by the end of verse 16, his personal qualities become a backdrop for his growing incompetence and puzzling identity. And because of his monologue and the way he behaves in Act II, his identity becomes a question that must be resolved.

If we try to find an answer to Who is he? it will lead us into an infinite regression, structured by a series of Why-is-he? question in pursuit of a non-existent essence in his overpowering present.

When the poet can avail himself of roles and dialogues, i.e. of interaction, the identity of the protagonist, i.e. his complexity, benefits from the scene as a context reflecting identity, and from speech – from expressions related to precise concepts as well as to intentions, norms and structural meaning.

Act I and the beginning of Act II presented us with the role of the competent go-between and we get the impression that Skírnir’s mission is diplomatic. He has come to buy friðr (peace verging on love) and his offer to Gerðr is simple: 11 golden apples! flattering, but essentially ‘Gold’, in return for a straightforward statement from Gerðr saying that to her Freyr is the most un-hated among the living (frið at kaupa, at þú þér Frey kveðir óleiðstan lifa.) – as opposed to the hatred in which gods and giants normally embrace. In effect this means that if Gerðr accepts the offer she is also prepared to let Freyr have his way. Well, she is not, because she detests Freyr and his lot. Gold she has already enough and she’s not afraid to die by Skínir’s sword and besides, what good is a dead Gerðr to Freyr? Friðr, however, is a bit out of place since Freyr is not interested in politics and diplomacy; he is more interested in trafficking. The choice of the diplomatic role is thus wrong and Skírnir’s first fault.

Having come this far into a mock wooing situation we may wonder what’s going on in Skírnir’s mind, and having posed this identity-related question, we might as well go back to the beginning of act II to look for an answer. In so doing we shouldn’t forget that there was a flaw in Skírni’s character visible already in Act I when he called Freyr folkvaldi goða.

The situation is not new to us and we know what the model situation ought to be because Venantius Fortunanus has described it when he wrote a series of poems in connection with the marriage of King Sigebert and Princess Brunhild in Metz 567 CE. Sigebert’s successful Skírnir, in Venantius’ word the ‘serene’ (i.e. Old Norse skír) image of the King, is called Duke Gogo and he brings Brunhild with him back to Metz and Sigebert. We also know from Hêliand (c. 830 CE) that a go-between such as Gabriel may be asked to explain himself well enough for the girl, in his case Mary, to be sure that he is not a fraud. He must prove that God sent him and show his ability to describe the technique and quality of the intercourse, the childbirth and the child. When Gabriel has explained these matters Mary says: ‘after these errends’ meaning now that you have proved yourself as God’s go-between, I am happy to obey. She already knows that she is  the ‘maid servant (ambótt) of the folk god’ and her master is obviously entitled to have his his way with her.

The first scene of Act II is an indoor and outdoor situation. It starts outside the farm, goes on to incorporate those indoors and ends up bringing together Gredr and Skírnis when Gerðr tells her maid to invite him into the hall. Gerðr is thus just about to show her good manners offering Skírnir something to drink now that he has come to visit her. Like Mary she is alone.

In the first dialogue, verses 11 to 13, Skírnir addresses the Shepherd asking him relatively politely whether he can speak to Gerðr. But despite his good manners, he also indicates that the Shepherd, instead of sitting on his mound keeping watch in all directions, ought to keep the dogs at bay. In principle the shepherd answers: No you can’t! but in practice being a servant or thrall at an Iron Age manor he is not just rude, he also expresses himself pointlessly and badly. He drops a line in the meter and produces the following full line: annspillis vanr   þú skalt æ vera, in which we hear an irregular too stressed and well-sounding alliteration between vanr and vera, i.e. between the second and the fourth (sic!) accent. I his first line, moreover, the shepherd repeats ertu unnecessarily: Hvárt ertu feigr, eða ertu framgenginn? Thus creating no less than four unaccented syllables in two similar trochaic words – e’ða e’rtu. This is an exaggeration in the poetic style of the poem. Moreover, ertu feigr and  ertu fremgenginn means the same: Are you dead? To answer the question ‘can I speak to your mistress?’ with ‘are you dead or are you dead?’ is not very sophisticated, not least because Skírnir, who started the conversation, is entitled to get the last word. It may well be that the shepperd is genuinly surprised that Skírnir has mananged to travel to Jotunheimen, but even in that case the shepperd is naïve. As Skírnir is upper-class he doesn’t bother to discuss with the shepherd. Instead he indulges in a small homily: ‘For those who have set out on a journey there are better thing to try than being wretched: Down to a day, my time is meted out and the whole of my life determined’. Here endeth the lesson telling the shepherd that to the Late Iron Age upper class male, the journey is the way of fulfilling a task as well as finding an identity and a destiny. Sitting on the mound like a wretched shepherd keeping watch is pointless. This type of conversation is standard, but here it backfires as soon as we understand that the shepherd’s mood is comparable to Freyr’s – the opposite of a folkvaldi goða. Is the Shepherd the wretched Freyr waiting for Skírnir to arrive? Is Freyr Skírnir’s shadow falling upon the shepherd, and Skírnir the serene side of Freyr?

Obviously the Late Iron Age upper classes, represented by Skírnir, treat the lower classes in an appalling way, unable to seeing them as peers and unable to grasp that the feelings of shepherds are on par with their own.

In an equally typical way we understand that two different things are going on when we listen to the dialogue between Gerðr and her maid. They are indoors, but instead of hearing the Shepherd and Skírnir talking to each other, Gerðr hears a ground- and house-shaking noise. Her maid on the other hand tells her about Skírnir and his horse. Similar to the beginning of the Finnsburg fragment, what sounds straightforward to common people is something exceptional to the upper classes. This is when Gerðr sends out the maid to invite Skírnir into the hall and it stands to reason that in his homily Gerðr heard the conviction of the man who asks to see her. She draws the conclusion that she is visited by a super natural Iron Age being and by trouble. But she invites him in, meets him at the door, asks if he is one of the Elfs, Vanir or Æsir and why he has come alone (She doesn’t give a pompous speech about fate and life and she asks because she is Mary-like, she wants to know more, while he is Gabriel-like). Skírnir says that he is neither, but nevertheless coming alone. Perhaps he is just a man, but since he represents the divine, and keeps his identity a secret, he is not completely truthful and we may wonder because he is falling out of the Gogo-Gabriel part. When Gabriel met Mary in Hêliand (in the 830s CE) he was in the same situation, but he revealed his identity and persuaded Mary that he was trustworthy. And duke Gogo who was sent out by King Sigebert to Brunhild in Toledo as his wooer played with open cards in Venantius Fortunatus poems about the marriage of Sigebert and Brunhild (567 CE). Although modelled on the holy wedding, the hieros gamos, theirs was completely a worldly one. Perhaps there is too much Freyr present in Skírnir.

In the next scene we are given some insight into the way the upper classes quarrel. They do it in a progressive Strindbergian fashion starting from a preunderstanding of the situation – not by saying: Are you dead or are you dead?

Since Skírnir turned Gerðr’s greeting and question into his own enigmatic and negative answer (vv 17 & 18), Gerðr repeats his offers to her in the negative (vv 19&20; 21&22), but each time she develops her response with her own arguments. This obviously irritates Skírnir, who starts threatening to kill her and Gerðr answers that she thinks that her father will anyway fight with Skírnir if they meet (vv 23&24). She could of course have said: Down to a day, my time is meted out … …, but she doesn’t. To the brave, such as Gerðr, death in itself is not a problem as longs as there’s someone to avenge you.

To underscore her disinterest in the matter Gerðr doesn’t end her strophe with a full line which brings things to a close. Instead she prefers the openness of long line when she expresses her presumption. Skírnir doesn’t hesitate to tell her that he will kill her father (v 25) and that brings the dialogue (vv23-25) to a hiatus. Predictably, since killing Gerðr and her father doesn’t solve his problems, Skírnir’s rage grows and his character and thus his identity takes yet a turn. This is the immediate reason why he starts to describe the fate of emancipated and stubborn girls who oppose the way marriage is arranged and negotiated among the LIA upper classes. Shrews lose their identity.

This scene, vv 26 to 31, is also the one in which Skírnir loses his grip on the meter and starts to fill-up the strophes with free-standing repetitive half lines. Modern translators and editors, but not good old Neckel, foolishly indicate some missing lines trying to save Skírnir’s poetical reputation. But in vain. It cannot be helped: unpolished shepherd’s poesy (his Freyr side?) is forcing its way out of his mouth when he projects Freyr’s  sentiments on Gerðr’s fate.

The scene is cunningly constructed. Once again there are two scenes in one – the quarrelling couple in front of us and Gerðr’s future life subsiding in the quarrel. To make is possible for both to see both realities at one and the same time Skírnir uses a staff, a light one, which intimidates Gerðr. He ‘tames’ her and it pleases him to force her into silence.

The future described in this and the next scene is a decade in the life of a young woman, i.e. Gerðr’s next ten years. Skírnir starts by depicting the not too uncommon teenage girl who turns her back to the world and stops eating because food is disgusting. Naturally she sits looking towards Hell, as worthless people do. Others start staring at her as if she was a lunatic and she becomes famous for being what she has become. Since she is stubborn she is captured by the trolls and starts to live a horrible life for a while before she must choose between one with three heads or never marry. Indirectly we understand that she refuses and that gives the author the possibility to make use of a metaphor from the life of the housewife that she refuses to become to show us how Gerðr, refusing to marry the three-headed troll, is thrown out of society: ver þú sem þistill, sá er var þrunginn i onn ofvanverða—be you like the thistle that which was crowded together in the worthless harvest. The scene refers to the indoor cleansing of the harvest, a daily occupation in the Iron Age household supervised by the housewife. The cleansing divides harvest into three: food for humans, food for animals and waste. The point is that Gerðr, refusing to begome the housewife, is thrown out as the most worthless part of the harvest, the thistles that not even the animals should eat. Being thistle-minded Gerðr has sorted out herself.

Because of her refusal to abate, Skírnir goes on in the next two scenes vv.32-37 to describe her as an exploited woman haunted by her multiple and conflicting identity. His method to achieve this future will be a new staff, which he will use three times on her. To find this staff he shall have to go to the woods and before he leaves Gerðr alone he therefore tells everybody that inasmush as Gerðr has offended the Æsir, Freyr will hate her and Oðinn is angry. Skírnir speaks on his behalf, having twisted his identity once again. To show her the powers invested in him, Skírnir tells Gerðr that with his staff he can force salaciousness, furiousness and impatience, ergi, œði and óþola, upon her as best he pleases. This means that her eventual owner Rimgrimmir doesn’t need to force himself upon her, Gerðr will  disgrace herself. Since Skírnir hob nobs with the divine echelons of the LIA society, this is no more than we expect from human beings loyally serving the upper classes.

At this moment Gerðr interrupts Skírnir. She does so because Skírnir has revealed his errand and identity – in reality he is the spokesman of the Æsir and Oðinn. Skírnir’s behavior proves that he is the Æsir’s errand boy. Similar to the way Mary was turned into obedience in Hêliand when Gabriel proved to her that it was the Lord, to whom she was but a servant, who wanted to overcome her with his wonderful shadow from the meadows of Heaven and have some sort of intercourse with her, Gerðr doesn’t object to Oðinn’s will. Gerðr and Mary are not the kind of women who object to the supreme authority, but well to pointless men. As Mary puts it: ‘Now that I know his will, I am his servant’, and so is Gerðr. If the Æsir, i.e. Oðinn, wants her to have intercourse with Freyr then that is OK with Gerðr, and she proposes the rendezvous at Barri. This satisfies Skírnir and perhaps Oðinn, but obviously not Freyr.

In verse 37 Gerðr interrupts Skírnir in a friendly and humorous way. Technically speaking she interrupts his never-ending monologue by greeting him the way she would have done in verse 19, if Skírnir hadn’t lost it: ‘Now you better be welcome young man and take a cup full of old mead’, and then she goes on joking about her situation: ‘That I had thought, though, that I would never make love to the off-spring of Vanir’. Since Skírnir’s mind is still exercising staffs of ergi, œði and óþola she baffles him and he loses face, but manages to be pompously formal: ‘Concerning my mission I want to know, before I leave and ride home, when and where you will give yourself to Njarðr’s dilating son’—nær þú á þingi / munt inom þroska // nenna Njarðar syni‘. If Skírnir had read Hêliand he would have known that part of his role was to describe the quality of the intercourse, albeit in less direct words. He should also have told Gerðr about Oðinn from the very beginning (and said something about the child). But then again, it is difficult to be involved with the divine. This too shows in a subtle way in the verses. In his last demand, Skírnir happens to put þroska in the wrong place, alliterating þingi – þroska on the second and fourth accent. This is odd, but it may of course happen if you are a stressed civil servant and a human being, however clever, among gods and giants. In Corpus Poeticum Boreale (1883) the editors were so embarrassed that they felt the need to ‘corrected’ the line: nær þú á þingi munt / inom þroskamikla.

Since the matter at stake is sanctioned by Oðinn, Gerðr tells Skírnir about Barri and since they both know the place, she incorporates a well-known and simple future into Skírnir’s troubled present. This fools him. She closes the case probably as a modern mariage case rather than a case of old-fashioned fertility cult, and Skírnir forgets that he was supposed to bring her home to Ásgard. He could have waited nine days and escorted Gerðr, but didn’t. The fact that the traficking wasn’t successful explains Freyr’s question about the errand.

In the end there is no much left of the competent valet; in fact so is little left that paraphrasing Philip Larkin is the only way to describe Skírnir’s situation:

They fuck you up, your giant gods.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they have
And add some extra, just for you.

But the again he got the sword, and perhaps the horse, didn’t he?

Having read Skírnismál we are able to judge the representatives of any semi-divine LIA King or lord and criticize the inflated and rotten hall-governed upper-class LIA society.


(0) Since the text is more important when dealing with Skírnismál Act II, Gudni Jonsson’s commented edtion from 1949 may be of some help. See: http://www.alarichall.org.uk/teaching/skirnismal.pdf

(1) Terry Gunnell in his book The origins of drama in Scandinavia (1995) argued that Skírnismál and other Eddic dialogue poems were plays. I follow in his foot steps.