Old Norse Proverbs: Quotes from the Hávamál

OdinHávamál or Sayings of the High One is part of the Elder Edda also known as Poetic Edda. The high one is Odin, and thus all the sayings of this Eddaic poem are attributed to the Allfather. In the original Old Norse the verses are composed in the meter called Ljóðaháttr, which in the Viking Age was associated with wisdom poetry. Practical advice and deep insights as for what it means to be human and live in this world make this little book a gem of the Norse literature. I admire it and today I would like to share with you a few of my favourite quotations from it.

A farm of your own is better, even if small. Everyone’s someone at home. Though he has two goats and a coarsely roofed house, that is better than begging (36).

Bú er betra,
þótt lítit sé,
halr er heima hverr;
þótt tvær geitr eigi
ok taugreftan sal,
þat er þó betra en bæn.

Where you recognise evil, speak out against it, and give no truces to your enemies (127).

Hvars þú böl kannt,
kveð þú þér bölvi at
ok gef-at þínum fjándum frið.

Thou should never sleep in the arms of a sorceress, lest she lock thy limbs (113).

Fjölkunnigri konu
skal-at-tu í faðmi sofa,
svá at hon lyki þik liðum.

From his weapons on the open road, no man should step one pace away (38).

Vápnum sínum
skal-a maðr velli á
feti ganga framar

Many a good girl when you know her better is fickle of heart towards men (102).

Mörg er góð mær,
ef görva kannar,
hugbrigð við hali

Praise day at even, a wife when dead, a weapon when tried, a maid when married, ice when ’tis crossed, and ale when ’tis drunk (81).

At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mæki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
ís, er yfir kemr,
öl, er drukkit er.

Even three words of quarrelling you shouldn’t have with an inferior (125).

Þrimr orðum senna
skal-at-tu þér við verra mann.

The foolish man thinks he will live forever if he keeps away from fighting; but old age won’t grant him a truce, even if the spears do (16).

Ósnjallr maðr
hyggsk munu ey lifa,
ef hann við víg varask;
en elli gefr
hánum engi frið,
þótt hánum geirar gefi.

Cattle die, kinsmen die; the self must also die. I know one thing which never dies: the reputation of each dead man (77).

Deyr fé,
deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn,
at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern.

Note that the Old Norse texts are given in normalized modern Icelandic orthography.

Photo: Odin figurine, Historical Museum in Oslo, Norway. Courtesy Mararie. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

25 comments… add one
  • Rima Habib

    Hi there!
    I was looking on the Internet for some original Viking quotes and i came against this forum. A good friend of mine who is very inspired by the viking culture has his birthday coming soon and i would like to make him a personal gift so i was thinking to choose a wise quote about friendship or life values and write it in the original alphabet on a wooden board or something like that. I came against few quotes on the internet but i‘m not sure if they‘re original. I could really use some help because i don‘t know much about this theme. Twi quote si liked a lot say: „Many a man keeps his word of foster-brothership but middlingly well“ and „with many who comes to power and honor , pride keeps pace with promotion“
    Are these really original quotes? And if so, can i get some advice on how to find them in the original language?
    If they are not original, can i have any suggestions?
    Thank you in advance!

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