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Hrafnagaldr Óðins

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Hrafnagaldr Óðins

The storyline of Hrafnagaldr Óðins involves the goddess Iðunn and the gods Loki, Heimdallr and Bragi. Illustration by Lorenz Frølich.

Hrafnagaldr Óðins ("Odin's raven-galdr") or Forspjallsljóð ("prelude poem") is an Icelandic poem in the style of the Poetic Edda. It is preserved only in late paper manuscripts. In his influential 1867 edition of the Poetic Edda, Sophus Bugge reasoned that the poem was a 17th-century work, composed as an introduction to Baldrs draumar. Since then it has not been included in editions of the Poetic Edda and not been extensively studied. But prior to Bugge's work the poem was considered a part of the Poetic Edda and included, for example, in the English translations of A. S. Cottle (1797) and Benjamin Thorpe (1866) as well as Karl Simrock's influential German translation (1851). In 1852, William and Mary Howitt characterized it as "amongst the most deeply poetical and singular hymns of the Edda".[1]


  • Date 1
  • Contents 2
  • Manuscript tradition 3
  • Publication history 4
  • Reception 5
  • Notes 6
    • Explanatory notes 6.1
    • Citations 6.2
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In 2002,

  • Eysteinn Björnsson. "Hrafnagaldur Óðins / Forspjallsljóð (Odin's Raven Chant)". Jörmungand. Retrieved July 2013.  (English tr. in parallel)
  • Eysteinn Björnsson and William P. Reaves (eds.), 2006. Hrafnagaldur Óðins /Forspallsljóð Original site as cited by Annette Lassen, 2011, p. 109.
  • Forspjallsljóð Sophus Bugge's edition
  • Odins ravnes sang Finn Magnussen's Danish edition
  • Odins Rabenzauber Karl Simrock's German Translation, 1851.

External links

  • Aðalheiður Guðmundsdóttir, The Werewolf in Medieval Icelandic Literature, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol.106:3 (2007) [2]
  • Howitt, William and Mary Howitt (1852). Literature and Romance of Northern Europe. Reprinted 2003, Kessinger Publishing.
  • Jónas Kristjánsson (2002). Hrafnagaldur Óðins - Forspjallsljóð. Morgunblaðið April 27, 2002. Available online at [3] (article), [4] (edition of the poem) and [5] (synopsis and commentary)
  • Kristján Árnason (2002). Hljóðdvöl í Hrafnagaldri Óðins. Morgunblaðið May 25, 2002. [6]
  • Lassen, Annette (2006). "Hrafnagaldur Óðins / Forspjallsljóð : et antikvarisk digt?" in The Fantastic in Old Norse/Icelandic Literature, pp. 551–560. English Translation with Facing Danish Text
  • Service, Tom. (2002) Sigur Ros. The Guardian April 23, 2002. [7]
commentary and studies
  • Cottle, Amos Simon (tr.) (1797), "Song of the Ravens", Icelandic poetry, or The Edda of Sæmund tr. into English verse (Bristol: N. Briggs): 195–211 
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (tr.) (1866), "Odin's Ravens' Song", Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða: The Edda of Sæmund the Learned (London: Trübner & Co.) 1: 28–32 
  • Eysteinn Björnsson and William P. Reaves (eds.), 2006. Hrafnagaldur Óðins /Forspallsljóð
  • Lassen, Annette (2011). "Hrafnagaldur Óðinns" (pdf). Viking Society for Northern Research.  
    • publication notice page
  • Karl Joseph, Simrock (1851). Die Edda: die ältere und jüngere (1 ed.). Stuttgart und Tübingen. (German)
    • 2nd edition (1855)
    • 5th edition (1874), pp. 61-, 407-
  • Guðmundur Magnússon, ed. (1818), Jón Jónsson, Jón Ólafsson of Svefney, Finnr Magnússon, and Gunnar Pálsson, "Hrafna-galdr Óþins", Edda Sæmundar hinns Fróda. Edda rhythmica seu antiqvior, vulgo Sæmundina dicta (Hafniæ(Kjøbenhavn): Typis Elmenianis) 1: 199– 
  • Rask, Rasmus Kristian; Afzelius, Arvid August, eds. (1818), "Hrafnagaldur Ódins", Edda Saemundar (Stockholm: Typis Elmenianis): 88–92 
  • Bugge, Sophus, ed. (1867), "Forspjallsljód eða Hrafnagaldr Óðins", Norræn fornkvæði (Christiania: Malling): 371376– 


  1. ^ Howitt 1852:85.
  2. ^ Jónas Kristjánsson 2002
  3. ^ Lassen 2006,Lassen 2011, pp. 10, 12, 15
  4. ^ Kristján Árnason 2002.
  5. ^ a b c d Lassen 2006
  6. ^ a b Lassen 2011, p. 7
  7. ^ Lassen 2011, pp. 18–21
  8. ^ Lassen 2011, pp. 18
  9. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 22
  10. ^ Lassen 2011, pp. 28, 29
  11. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 28
  12. ^ a b Lassen 2011, p. 9
  13. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 35
  14. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 64
  15. ^ Lassen 2011, pp. 64–5
  16. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 67
  17. ^ Lassen,[5] citing Bugge 1867, p. lxviii: "Lidet er at bygge paa Udtrykkene i „En Skrivelse fra Arne Magnusen til Hr. John Haldorsen, Provst i Hitardal, dateret 18 Junii 1729.."
  18. ^ Jón Margeirsson, ed. (1975). "Bréf Árna Magnússonar til Íslands 1729 og fleiri skjöl hans í Ríkisskjalasafni Dana" (snippet). Opuscula 5: 123–180. 
  19. ^ Guđmundur Magnusson 1787
  20. ^ Lassen 2011, pp. 6, 8, 76,116
  21. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 8
  22. ^ Lassen 2011, p. 8,22,26
  23. ^ Rydberg, Undersökningar i Germanisk Mythologi, I
  24. ^ Lassen, Annette (2011) Hrafnagaldur Óðinns, Viking Society for Northern Research, p. 9.
  25. ^ Service 2002
  26. ^ sigur rós + hilmar örn hilmarsson + steindór andersen, hrafnagaldur óðins, barbican centre, london, april 21st, 2002, p. 6. [1]
  27. ^ Jónas Kristjánsson 2002


  1. ^ 1650-1799? is the dating at database.
  2. ^ Jón Eiríksson (is)'s Codex Ericianus or Codex E employed in the Arnamagnæan also refers to the deacon's manuscript by initial "P.S." and uses variant readings from it.

Explanatory notes


[27] "Eysteinn Björnsson and Reaves' work on the poem led to the performance of the choral and orchestral work 'Hrafnagaldur Óðins with music by [24] Interest in the poem has been renewed after 1998, when Eysteinn Björnsson and William P. Reaves posted an edition of the poem with English translation and commentary online. Although this edition was "for the most part removed again in 2002", leaving only the English translation of the poem in its place,


Sophus Bugge in his 1867 edition of the Poetic Edda argued that the poem was a work of the 17th century, and after this, it was mostly ignored by editors and students of the Edda. An exception is Viktor Rydberg, who in 1886 accepted the poem as authentic and sought to explain its narrative as referring to the time Idun was taken from Asgard by Thjazi.[23]

The poem was published next in Edda Sæmundar hinns fróða, 1818, edited by Rasmus Rask and Arvid August Afzelius. Hallgrimur Scheving (1837), P.A. Munch (1847), Hermann Lüning (1859), Theodor Möbius (1860), and Frederich Wilhelm Bergmann (1875) also published editions of the poem. Finnur Magnusson (1822), Karl Simrock (1851) and Benjamin Thorpe (1865) produced translations into Danish, German and English respectively.

The first printed edition of the poem appeared in the so-called Arnamagnæan edition of Edda Sæmundar hinns fróði (1787).[5][19] The tome was a collaboration of several co-editors, but Lassen identifies Guđmundur Magnusson (Gudmundus Magnæus, 1741-1798) as the poem's editor, translator (into Latin), and commentator.[20] The text is that of MS Icel. 47, a manuscript edition made by Jón Eiríksson (is), which contained variant readings, used in the critical apparatus of the edition.[21] The critical apparatus also made use of commentary by aforementioned Gunnar Pálsson (is), scribbled on the manuscript AM 424 fol.[22]

Publication history

Ég hafðe (sem brann) bref Sal. Sra Olafs (Skolameistara ockar) ahrærande eina af þessum odis (mig minnir Hrafnaga. Odins) ad Mag. Brýniolfur hafe þá qvidu uppskrifa láteð epter gömlu saurugu einstaka blade, og minnir mig þar stæde, ad þar aftan vid hefde vantad, og eins kynne um fleira gengid vera. Þetta verður svo sem allt i þoku, því documentin eru burtu,'
—text normalized by Jón Margeirsson (1975), p.147[18]
"I had (which burned) blessed Reverend Ólafur's (our principal's) letter regarding one of these odes (I believe Hrafnagaldur Odins) a song that Magister Brynjólfur had allowed to be copied from one old, dirty leaf, and as I recall, he said that there was something missing at the end, and that it may have occurred in the same manner. This is all as if in a fog, the documents are gone."
—tr. by William P. Reaves

According to analysis of the best manuscripts, the various copies all derive from a single archetype. Since it is not transmitted in other than paper manuscripts, the poem is often considered a later work, possibly a post-medivael imitation of an Eddic poem, akin to Gunnarslagr (or Gunnars-slagr), composed by Gunnar Pálsson (is) (1714-1791).[5] Nevertheless, a vellum manuscript of the poem may once have existed. Árni Magnússon makes reference to the poem in a letter dated June 18, 1729 to Jón Halldórsson, Dean of Hítardalur, raising the possibility that such a manuscript was lost in the Great Fire in Copenhagen of 1728, which destroyed a large part of Arni's library, including as many as 15 bound manuscripts of Eddic poetry. Bugge (who concluded the poem was of late authorship) knew the letter but dismissed it as unreliable.[17] The letter reads as follows:

Most other manuscripts of Hrafnagaldur Óðins are derived from A and B. The number and ordering of stanzas is the same in all manuscripts. There are only minor differences in the texts. The text of the poem is cryptic and most probably corrupt. The final stanza does not appear to form a satisfactory conclusion, suggesting that the poem as it has come down to us is incomplete.

National Library of Iceland ca. 1760[16]
  • E - Lbs 1441 4to
Royal Library, Denmark 18th century. The first leaf bears inscription "Skrifud af Diakna Paule", identified by Lassen as Deacon Páll Sveinsson Torfasonar 1704–1784[15][2]
  • D - Thott 1491 4to
National Library of Sweden. ca. 1650-1699[14]
  • C - Stockholm papp. fol. nr 57
National Library of Iceland ca. 1650-1799?.[13][1] A portion was written ca. 1673-7 by Ásgeir Jónsson, and the rest written in the 18the century, 8~9 scribes in all, according to Lassen, correcting Páll Eggert Ólason’s catalogue date of 1660.
  • B - Lbs 1562 4to

and Lassen's own base text. [12] Base manuscript used by [11] First brought to Sweden in 1681 by Guðmunður Ólafsson.

National Library of Sweden ca. 1650-1699.[10]
  • A - Stockholm papp. 8vo nr 15

Hrafnagaldur Oðins is transmitted in a single version, with minimal discrepancies, contained in at least thirty-seven copies dating from the latter half of the 17th century to the 1870s, now housed in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany and the United States.[6] Annette Lassen used five manuscripts of critical value in her edition. All manuscripts that contain the poem include the subtitle Forspjallsljóð.[9]

Manuscript tradition

The poem begins with five stanzas of ominous introduction, the narrative proper setting in in stanza 6. Idunn falls from the world-tree (stanzas 6-7) and is given a wolfskin to wear (stanza 8). Alarmed, Odin sends a trio of messengers led by Heimdall to get news from a woman designated as "the doorpost of Gjöll's sun" (Giallar sunnu gátt, a kenning for woman) (stanza 9). The identity of the woman that Heimdall and his companions visit in the lower world is not revealed. She has been variously identified as Idunn (Bugge 1867), Hela (Emil Doepler, 1881), and as Urd (Simrock 1851, Viktor Rydberg, 1889). The messengers ask her the beginning, duration and end of heaven, the world, and hel (stanza 11). Tears are her only response (stanzas 12-13). The failed messengers return to Asgard, joining a feast in progress (stanzas 14-15). Heimdall tells the gods of their mission; Loki informs the goddesses (stanzas 16-19). The festivities conclude (stanza 21), and the onset of night is described in mythological terms (stanzas 22-26). In the final verse, Heimdall lifts his horn toward heaven.

The poem consists of 26 fornyrðislag eight-line stanzas. It involves several known figures from Norse mythology, including Odinn, Idunn, Heimdall, Loki and Bragi, but does not appear to describe a myth known from other sources.


Annette Lassen, in her preliminary assessment (2006) had stated conservatively that this poem should not be subject to greater skepticism than e.g. Fjölsvinnsmál and Sólarljóð (other Eddic poems thought to be of later authorship and exist only in paper manuscripts).[5] But in her 2011 critical edition with accompanying translation (rendered into English by Anthony Faulkes), she states unequivocally that the poem "is a postmedieval poem" probably composed soon after "the rediscovery of the Codex Regius of the Elder Edda in 1643".[6] Elsewhere she assigns a terminus post quem to when the Icelanders were familiarized with Erasmus's Adagia (1500), which she says must have been the conduit through which the poet learned the adage in nocte consilium which is adapted into the poem in st. 22.[7] Another dating clue is the occurrence of the word máltíd st. 20, a Middle Low German loanword, used in Iceland after the middle of the 14th century, though the poem can "hardly be as old as that."[8]

[4] Linguist Kristján Árnason disagreed and argued on the basis of a metrical analysis that the poem as it has come down to us can hardly be older than from the 16th century.[3][2]

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