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THE HAVAMAL - the words of Odin extracted from the Poetic Edda

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THERE existed from very early times a collection of Norse proverbs and wise counsels, which were attributed to Odin (Othin) just as the Biblical proverbs were to Solomon. This collection was known as "The High One's Words," and forms the basis of the present poem.

Few gnomic collections in the world's literary history present sounder wisdom more tersely expressed than the Havamal. Like the Book of Proverbs it occasionally rises to lofty heights of poetry. If it presents the worldly wisdom of a violent race, it also shows noble ideals of loyalty, truth, and unfaltering courage.

Over time other poems were added to the original content dealing with wisdom which seemed, by their nature, to imply that the speaker was Odin. Thus a catalogue of runes, or charms, was tacked on, and also a set of proverbs. Here and there bits of verse crept in; and of course the loose structure of the poem made it easy for any reciter to insert new stanzas almost at will. This curious miscellany is what we now have as the Havamal.

Five separate elements are pretty clearly recognizable: (1) the Havamal proper (stanzas 1-80), a collection of proverbs and counsels for the conduct of life; (2) the Loddfafnismol (stanzas 111-138), a collection somewhat similar to the first, but specifically addressed to a certain Loddfafnir; (3) the Ljothatal (stanzas 147-165), a collection of charms; (4) the lovestory of Odin and Billing's daughter (stanzas 96-102); (5) the story of how Odin got the mead of poetry from the maiden Gunnloth (stanzas 103-110). There is also a brief passage (stanzas 139-146) telling how Odin won the runes, this passage being a natural introduction to the Ljothatal, and doubtless brought into the poem for that reason.

 

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