Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2097
The Sibyl's Prophecy
At Odin's request, a prophetess predicts the future from creation to fall and renewal. She begins with a time when nothing existed; heavens and earth come into existence, but in chaos. The gods, who create the arts and crafts, social life, and finally, mankind, impose order. She prophesies the war between the Aesir and the Vanir and their conciliation, the death of Balder through Loki's trickery, Loki's punishment, the dwarves's golden home, the realm of the dead, and the punishment of the wicked. She foresees the final battle between gods and giants that will end in their mutual destruction. Sun and stars fail, the earth sinks beneath the sea, but in the final stanzas, she describes a second green earth rising from the waters. Balder and Hod, his blind brother who accidentally killed him, will come again to rule. Then a mighty one, sometimes identified as Christ, will come down to bring the deserving to a hall more beautiful than the sun.
The Sayings of the High One
This is a composite poem in which only stanzas 111-64 are in the voice of Odin the 'High One.' It begins with practical advice on behavior and attitude: "It takes sharp wits to travel in the world / they're not so hard on you at home—Better to be alive than to be lifeless / the living can hope for a cow." Even among such homely advice, however, is fame, so important to the epic attitude: "Cattle die, kinsmen die, / One day you die yourself; but the words of praise will not die." The poem ends with Odin's advice addressed to a young man called Loddfafnir.
The Lay of Vafthrudnir
Odin has a contest with the giant Vafthrudnir to determine who has the greater knowledge of the gods, creation, and the future. Odin wins because he alone knows what he whispered in Balder's ear as he lay on his funeral pyre. The lay serves as a glossary of the metaphors and images used in early Norse poetry.
The Lay of Grimnir
Hunding had two sons: Agnar and Geirrod. They were fishing from a rowboat and were swept out to sea. When they made land, a farmer took them in until spring came. When they arrived back home, Geirrod jumped out of the boat and pushed it and his brother back out to sea. Geirrod became king. Later, Odin and Frigg, his wife, were looking down at earth. Odin teased Frigg that Geirrod, whom he favored, was king while Agnar, whom Frigg favored, lived in the wilds. Frigg answered that Geirrod was stingy. Odin bet her he would find him generous to strangers. Frigg sends a message to Geirrod to beware of a wizard coming to his court, describing Odin in disguise. Odin arrives and when he refuses to give more than an assumed name, Grimnir, he is seated between two fires to make him speak. Geirrod's son Agnar thinks it wrong to mistreat a guest and brings him a drink. For this act, Odin blesses the boy and tells him his real name. When the king hears, he jumps up to take him away from the fires, but stumbles and falls on his own sword.
This lay tells of the god Frey who saw and loved a giant's beautiful daughter. He sent his servant Skirnir to persuade her to accept him as her lover. Skirnir cajoles and threatens her until she finally accepts Frey.
The Lay of Harbard
The first of the comical lays. Odin disguised himself as a ferryman and engaged Thor in a duel of words. Thor loses badly.
The Lay of Hymir
The gods are feeling like a party and ask the giant Aegir to brew beer for it. Thor unfortunately annoys Aegir. Aegir tells Thor he must borrow the giant Hymir's brewing vat. Thor and Tyr, Hymir's son, set out for Hymir's home where Hymir's young mistress welcomes them. She warns them Hymir does not like guests and makes them hide when he comes. She tells Hymir that his son has come with a friend. Three bulls are cooked for dinner. Thor eats two of them. Hymir tells his guests that they will go out hunting for supper. Thor suggests that he will take a boat out and fish if Hymir provides the bait. Thor rows out, baits his hook with an ox's head, and catches the serpent that encircles the earth, drags it up into the boat, but thankfully, throws it back. Hymir then challenges Thor to crack his cup. Thor flings it; columns crash and stone splinters, but the cup is unbroken. At the mistress's suggestion, he flings it at the giant's head and it breaks. Thor grabs the kettle and kills the pursuing giants. Aegir brews the beer.
The Insolence of Loki
Loki infuriates the assembled gods and goddesses by bringing up past scandals. His stories grow more and more vile until he is finally frightened into leaving with the threat of Thor's hammer. He curses the gods as he leaves.
The Layof Thrym
Thor's great hammer, Mjollnir, is stolen. Loki discovers that the giant Thrym has it. Thrym tells Loki that he will give it back only if he can marry Freyja. Not surprisingly, Thor has no luck in convincing Freyja that she should marry a giant. A council of the gods and goddesses is convened and Heimdal suggests that they dress Thor as a bride with Loki as her maid. Thor does not like it, but he must have his hammer to keep the giants out of Asgard. Thrym is beside himself with joy when they arrive, but after a comical passage in which Loki has to explain the bride's incredible appetite and frightening eyes, Thor gets his hands on his hammer and kills his prospective in-laws.
The Lay of Volund
Volund, the most famous smith of the north, is taken prisoner by King Nidud who lames him. Volund makes himself wings, avenges himself by murdering Nidud's sons and raping his daughter, and flies away.
The Lay of Alvis
The dwarf Alvis tries to steal Thor's daughter, but is tricked into such a lengthy display of his knowledge, which amounts to a catalogue of poetic synonyms, that he is caught by dawn and dies from exposure to sunlight. Balder, whose death is depicted here, was the son of Odin and Frigg and a favorite of the gods. The blind god Hod, deceived by Loki, killed Balder by hurling mistletoe, the only thing that could hurt him.
The First and Second Lays of Helgi Hunding's Bane and The Lay of Helgi Hjorvar's Son
The Helgi lays are incomplete and confused. Taken with the notes attached to them, they recount a story of two lovers who are reborn again and again. The first and second lays are the story of Helgi, Sigmund's son. Helgi is loved and protected by the Valkyrie, Sigrun. Helgi must fight Sigrun's father, brothers, and suitor to save her from an unwanted marriage. He kills them all except for her brother Dag, whom he spares. Dag swears peace with Helgi, but sacrifices to Odin for vengeance. Odin lends him his spear, and Dag kills Helgi. Sigrun is inconsolable. A maid tells her Helgi's spirit is in his burial mound. Sigrun goes to his grave to be with him one last night, dying of grief soon after. Later, they are both reborn, as Helgi Hunding's Bane and Kara. In the 'The Lay of Helgi Hjorvar's Son' another Helgi is loved by a Valkyrie, Svava, who marries him. His brother Hedin confesses that he made a drunken vow to marry Svava. Helgi replies that his vow may be good for both of them; he is about to go into battle and does not expect to survive. Helgi, as he foresaw, is mortally wounded.
Dying, he asks Svava to marry Hedin. She refuses, but Hedin promises her he will avenge Helgi. The lay breaks off in the manuscript with a note that "It is said of Helgi and Svava that they were born again."
The Prophecy of Gripir
Ironically, the only straightforward version of Sigurd and Brynhild's story is in the form of a prophecy. Sigurd asks his uncle what he sees in store for him. Gripir tells him that he will be a great hero. Sigurd questions Gripir further. Gripir tells him he will avenge his father, kill Fafnir the dragon, the evil Regin, and win Fafnir's treasure. He will wake a sleeping Valkyrie and learn her wisdom. Gripir then breaks off. Sigurd asks him if he sees something shameful. Gripir reassures him and finally continues. Sigurd will fall in love with Brynhild. They will swear to be faithful, but Sigurd will betray her, because of Queen Grimhild who wants Sigurd married to her daughter, Gudrun, and Brynhild to her son, Gunnar. Sigurd will forget Brynhild and promise Gunnar and Hogni that he will win her for Gunnar. Sigurd will live happily with Gudrun, but Brynhild will plot her revenge for his betrayal. Gunnar and Hogni will fall in with her plans and murder Sigurd. Gripir consoles his nephew that at least he will be fortunate in his fame. Sigurd leaves saying, "You would have been glad to say good things of what is coming if you could."
The Lay of Regin
This lay begins with the history of Fafnir and his hoard. Regin takes Sigurd as his foster son, forges him a mighty sword, and urges him to kill the dragon Fafnir. Sigurd insists on avenging his father first.
The Lay of Fafnir
Sigurd, returning after avenging his father, kills Fafnir. The dying dragon warns Sigurd that his treasure is cursed and that Regin means to kill him. Sigurd roasts and eats the dragon's heart and finds he understands the birds talking about Regin's plans to kill him. Sigurd kills Regin.
The Lay of Sigdrifa
Sigurd has learned from the birds about a Valkyrie lying in an enchanted sleep. He wakes her, and she shares her wisdom with him.
Fragmentary Lay of Sigurd
A dramatic fragment dealing with the murder of Sigurd.
The Lay of Gudrun
Gudrun grieves for Sigurd while various noblewomen attempt to comfort her. Brynhild commits suicide to be with Sigurd in death.
The Short Lay of Sigurd
This is Sigurd's story from Brynhild's point of view. After the tale of her betrayal and revenge is told, she makes plans for her funeral and warns Gunnar what the future holds for him and for Gudrun.
Brynhild's Journey to Hel
Brynhild, on her way to meet Sigurd in the land of the dead, encounters a giantess who accuses her of murder and fickleness. Brynhild justifies her behavior to her.
The Second Lay of Gudrun
Gudrun tells of Sigurd's murder, of her brother's duplicity, and her marriage to Atli.
The Third Lay of Gudrun
Gudrun is suspected of being unfaithful to Atli. She proves her innocence by putting her hand into boiling water and withdrawing it unhurt.
Atli's sister, Oddrun, tells of her grief for Gunnar. After Brynhild's death, Gunnar wanted to marry her, but Atli forbade it. Oddrun and Gunnar met secretly. Atli learned of this and murdered Gunnar and Hogni.
The Lay of Atli
Gunnar and Hogni, despite forebodings, visit their brother-in-law, Atli, where they are murdered in Atli's attempt to extort Andvari's treasure from them. Gundrun avenges her brothers, murdering her sons by Atli, and feeding them to their father. She then burns Atli and his men in their hall.
The Greenland Lay of Atli
Another version of Gudrun's revenge for her brothers's murders.
Gudrun's Chain of Woes
Gudrun urges her sons by her third husband, Jonacr, to avenge their half sister, murdered by her husband Jormunrek.
The Lay of Hamdir
Hamdir and Sorli, the sons of Jonacr and Gudrun, set out to avenge their half-sister, Swanhild. On the way, they meet and murder their half-brother, Erp. When they reach Jormunrek's court, they fail to avenge their sister for the lack of his help.
Odin consults a prophetess to learn the fate of his beloved son Balder.
The Mill Song
King Frodi had two captive giant girls. He put them to work grinding out gold and peace at a magic hand mill. They prophesy his downfall.
The Waking of Angantyr
Hervor, Angantyr's daughter, goes to his grave to demand his sword, Tyrfing, so she can avenge him. Angantyr's ghost, who knows Tyrfing is cursed to kill every one who uses it, tries to dissuade her, but she will not be persuaded. He allows her to take it.