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Hávamál (English: /ˈhɔːvəˌmɔːl/ HAW-və-mawl; Old Norse: Hávamál,[note 1] classical pron. [ˈhɒːwaˌmɒːl], Modern Icelandic pron. [ˈhauːvaˌmauːl̥], ‘Words of Hávi [the High One]’) is presented as a single poem in the Codex Regius, a collection of Old Norse poems from the Viking age. The poem, itself a combination of numerous shorter poems, is largely gnomic, presenting advice for living, proper conduct and wisdom. It is considered an important source of Old Norse philosophy.

"The Stranger at the Door" (1908) by W. G. Collingwood

The verses are attributed to Odin; the implicit attribution to Odin facilitated the accretion of various mythological material also dealing with the same deity.[1]

For the most part composed in the metre ljóðaháttr, a metre associated with wisdom verse, Hávamál is both practical and philosophical in content.[2] Following the gnomic "Hávamál proper" comes the Rúnatal, an account of how Odin won the runes, and the Ljóðatal, a list of magic chants or spells.[3]


The Old Norse name Hávamál is a compound of the genitive form of Hávi, which is the inflexionally weak form of Odin's name Hár ('High One'), and the plural noun mál (from older mǫ́l), and means 'Song (or Words) of the High One'.[4][5]

Textual history

The only surviving source for Hávamál is the 13th century Codex Regius, with the exception of two short parts.[note 2] The part dealing with ethical conduct (the Gestaþáttr) was traditionally identified as the oldest portion of the poem by scholarship in the 19th and early 20th century. Bellows (1936) identifies as the core of the poem a "collection of proverbs and wise counsels" which dates to "a very early time", but which, by the nature of oral tradition, never had a fixed form or extent. Klaus von See (1981) identifies direct influence of the Disticha Catonis on the Gestaþáttr, suggesting that also this part is a product of the high medieval period and casting doubt on the "unadulterated Germanic character" of the poem claimed by earlier commentators.[6]

To the gnomic core of the poem, other fragments and poems dealing with wisdom and proverbs accreted over time. A discussion of authorship or date for the individual parts would be futile, since almost every line or stanza could have been added, altered or removed at will at any time before the poem was written down in the 13th century. Individual verses or stanzas nevertheless certainly date to as early as the 10th, or even the 9th century. Thus, the line deyr fé, deyja frændr ("cattle die, kinsmen die") found in verses 76 and 77 of the Gestaþáttr can be shown to date to the 10th century, as it also occurs in the Hákonarmál by Eyvindr skáldaspillir. The Hávamál has been described as a 10th-century poem in some sources. [7]

Editions and translations

  • editio princeps: Peder Hansen Resen, Edda. Islandorum an. Chr. 1215 islandice conscripta, 1665 (Google Books).
  • Peter Andreas Munch, Carl Rikard Unger, Den Ældre Edda: Samling af norrøne oldkvad, indeholdende Nordens ældste gude- og helte-sagn, Christiania: P. T. Malling, 1847 (Internet Archive)
  • Benjamin Thorpe, Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða: The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned, 1866 (online transcription).
  • Sophus Bugge, Sæmundar Edda hins fróða. Christiania: P. T. Malling, 1867.
  • Olive Bray, The Elder or Poetic Edda, commonly known as Sæmund's Edda, part I: The Mythological Poems, London: Printed for the Viking Club, 1908, pp. 61–111(online transcription).
  • H. A. Bellows, The Poetic Edda, 1936, "Hovamol: The Ballad of the High One" (online edition).
  • Carolyne Larrington, The Poetic Edda, Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Jackson Crawford, The Poetic Edda, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2015.
  • Jackson Crawford, The Wanderer's Hávamál, 2019 (Google Books).
  • Thorstein Mayfield, Poetic Edda: A Heathen Study Edition (Mythological Poems), Woden's Folk Press, 2019.

See also


  1. Unnormalised spelling in the Codex Regius:
    Title: hava mal
    Final stanza: Nv ero Hava mál qveðin Háva hꜹllo i [...]
  2. The first stanza is also found in the manuscripts of the Prose Edda (in slightly different versions), and three lines of a later stanza are also found in the manuscripts of Fóstbrœðra saga (again in slightly different versions).


  1. Bellows (1936), introductory note.
  2. Richardson, Nathaniel Smith; Boggs, Edward Brenton; Baum, Henry Mason (1872). The Church Review. Bassett and Bradley.
  3. Larrington, Carolyne. (Trans.) (1999) The Poetic Edda, p. 14. Oxford World's Classics ISBN 0-19-283946-2
  4. Orchard 1997, pp. 74–75.
  5. Lindow 2002, pp. 164, 212.
  6. Klaus von See: „Disticha Catonis und Hávamál.“ In: Klaus von See: Edda, Saga, Skaldendichtung. Heidelberg 1981, 27–44.
  7. Vendel Period Bracteates on Gotland p. 37


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