The handout for our May 2012 discussion.
Some Interpretations of Hyndluljoð
The earliest form of Hyndluljoð is found in the Flateyjarbok (“Flat-island book”), a medieval Icelandic manuscript written near the end of the 14th century. The Flateyjarbok was given to Bishop Brynjolfur Sveinsson by Jon Finnsson of Flatey in the middle of the 17th century; the bishop gave it to the king of Denmark, and the book became part of the Royal Library of Copenhagen until it was returned to Iceland in 1971 along with Codex Regius. In addition to Hyndluljoð, the book contains many other sagas and tales, including some not found elsewhere, such as the Groenlendinga Saga (Saga of the Greenlanders) and Sorla Thattr, best known as the source for the ever-popular story of Freyja’s acquisition of the Brisingamen.
The poem is introduced in the Flateyjarbok with “Her hefr upp hyndlu hlioð kveðit um ottar heimska” (Here begins the hearing of Hyndla’s speech to Ottar the Foolish). The word “hlioð” (hearing) is generally amended to “ljoð” (song), resulting in the poem’s usual title.
In three of the 17th century manuscripts in which the poems Groagaldr and Fjolsvinnsmal (together known as Svipdagsmal, a name coined by Sophus Bugge in 1860) occur, they are separated by Hyndluljoð, giving some support to those who believe that the character Menglod (“one who takes pleasure in jewels” or “necklace-glad”) in Svipdagsmal should be understood as Freyja.
Erich Campbell points out that in stanza 4, the pronoun used is “she”, though most editions translate it as “I.” These pronoun shifts and occasional uncertainty as to who the intended speaker is are reminiscent of Voluspa.
In stanzas 25 and 26, ten of the twelve berserk sons of Arngrim (similar to those from Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks, translated by Christopher Tolkien as The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, among other sources) are listed as Ottar’s kin. Some editors add the missing brothers, one of whom is named Angantyr, and remove the name Tyrfing, which in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks is the name of the cursed sword forged by the dwarves.
Though the original manuscript seems to attribute stanzas 46-49 to Hyndla with the refrain “hleyr thu, eðlvina, uti a natton,/ sem með hofrom Heiðrun fari” (gallop away, noble lady, out into the night,/ as Heidrun runs in heat among the he-goats- Larrington translation), most modern editors remove the refrain from stanza 48, change the first line of the stanza from “Ec slæ eldi af iviðio” (I will cast fire from the troll woman) to “Ec slæ eldi of iviðio (I will cast fire around the troll woman) and attribute the stanza to Freyja instead.
Voluspa hin skamma
In chapter 5 of Gylfaginning Snorri Sturluson explains that the Frost Giants came from Ymir and for evidence cites stanza 33 of Hyndluljoð, which Snorri identifies not as part of Hyndluljoð but instead as belonging to Voluspa hin skamma (the Short Voluspa). Bugge identified stanzas 29-44 as the Voluspa hin skamma, and most later editors have followed his lead. Some, like Hollander, even go so far as to remove those stanzas from Hyndluljoð entirely, giving them their own section and name.
Gro Steinsland argues that the stanzas are not an interpolation because there is no indication that anyone other than Hyndla is speaking; stanza 29 contains the poem’s refrain “alt er that ætt thin, Ottarr heimski” (all these are your kin, Ottar the foolish); and the poem’s inclusion of gods and similar figures is not unusual in a culture that regularly traced its genealogies back into mythic times, as in Ynglinga saga. Steinsland further argues that the stanzas commonly referred to as Voluspa hin skamma illustrate the union(s) between a god or king and a giantess in a sort of hieros gamos, which she believes to be a common topic in the mythology.
While Quinn does not bring the idea of the hieros gamos into the poem, she supports Steinsland’s basic argument for the formal and thematic unity of the poem. She adds that the refrain of “Mart segiom ther ok munom fleira,/ voromz, at viti sva, viltu enn fleira?” (Much have I told you, I will tell you more,/ it’s important that you know it, do you want to know more?) in stanzas 31, 34, 36, and 39 echo the earlier line “varðar, at viti sva, viltu enn lengra?” (it’s important that you know it, do you want to know more?). Quinn also believes that Hyndluljoð and Voluspa hin skamma may have been two names for the same work. At 50 stanzas, Hyndluljoð is shorter than either the version of Voluspa in Codex Regius (62 stanzas) or the version in the Hauksbok (59 stanzas), so it could be a “Short Voluspa.” As well, the introduction to Hyndluljoð calls the poem a “hlioð,” which is what the volva asks of the kin of Heimdall in the opening of Voluspa, and the term spa (“recitation” or “announcement of prophecy”) is complementary to a “listening” or “audience” (264).
Nasstrom also argues for the unity of the poem, agreeing with Steinsland about showing Ottar’s relation to the gods and seeing in Voluspa hin skamma knowledge of the gods and the cosmos that the individual represented by Ottar must know, a sort of “divine experience of man’s existential situation” (143).
The character of Ottar is a source of controversy among different scholars. Some seek to make the poem as a whole an attempt to create a noble pedigree for a historical figure. Hollander and Orchard both favor Ottar Birtingr, the former valet of Sirgurðr Jorsalafari; this Ottar rose to a point where he married Ingrid Ragnvaldsdottir, a member of the Swedish royal family and the widow of King Harald Gilli of Norway (who was king ca. 1130 and claimed to be an illegitimate son of Magnus Barefoot).
Grimm believed that Ottar is identical to Oðr, the husband of Freyja from whom she gets her by-name Oðs Mey, while Rydberg identified him with both Oðr and Svipdag. Various modern scholars tentatively agree with aspects of these identifications. As well, though it was first proposed by Rydberg, some scholars, such as Davidson, Nasstrom, and Simek, agree that the character Syritha (who, after wandering for a time, is wooed and married by a man named Ottar) in Book 7 of Saxo’s Gesta Danorum is probably Freyja (whose by-names include Syr, probably meaning “sow” and/or “shield”).
Nasstrom, pointing to the many similarities shared by Hyndluljoð’s Ottar, Gesta Danorum’s Ottar, Ynglingatal’s and Heimskringla’s Ottar Vendelkraka, and Beowulf’s Othere, argues that Ottar should be seen primarily as a literary character who represents a type of person rather than an actual historical figure. She argues that the name Hildisvini in the poem stands for not only a boar, a symbol of protection associated with the Vanir, but also the helmet Hildisvini, which Snorri in Skaldskaparmal says was captured by Aðils, son of Ottar, along with another helmet, Hildigoltr (“war boar”) and a ring, Sveagriss (“Swedish pig”); the helmet itself can be used in skaldic poetry to represent a warrior. Not only does the boar and/or helmet provide protection, but in connection with the word “eofor” (boar), it designated rulership, as in the heiti “jofurr” for king or chieftain. Thus, Nasstrom interprets Ottar as representing those individuals who were initiated into warrior-hood, becoming warriors dedicated to Freyja rather than Oðin.
Hyndla repeatedly refers to Ottar as “Ottarr heimski” in the poem. This is generally interpreted as something like “Ottar the foolish,” and Nasstrom argues that this is part of the humiliation the initiate endures as part of the ritual before being raised to be a full part of his society. Fleck suggests that “heimski” should instead be interpreted as “the one who is staying at home” and that the poem should be read as relating to ultimogeniture with Ottar attempting to secure his birth right.
As mentioned above, a few characters named Angantyr appear in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks. The first is the eldest of Arngrim’s twelve berserk sons, a man with the strength of two men who wields the sword Tyrfing, capable of cutting through anything but cursed to kill a man every time it was unsheathed. This Angantyr has a grandson named Angantyr Hofundsson who is slain with Tyrfing by his brother, Heiðrek. Heiðrek in turn had two sons, Angantyr and Hloðr; after Heiðrek’s death, Angantyr refuses to share the inheritance with Hloðr. The two brothers fight, and Angantyr is victorious.
Nasstrom believes that the different characters named Angantyr in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks and Hyndluljoð are similar enough that they should be considered a type of character rather than separate individuals. In her initiation theory, Angantyr represents the more experienced warrior that the initiate must overcome in order to take his place in society.
The name Hyndla means “Little Bitch” (though one of the more popular videos on YouTube about the poem prefers “She-Wolf,” perhaps feeling it is more dignified, or perhaps working off Nasstrom’s speculation, described below). She appears to be similar to the volva in Baldr’s Draumar, whom Oðin names the mother of three thurses; Hyndla sleeps in a cave that seems to be located on the edge of the underworld on the road to the gods, she is reluctantly woken by a magic-wielding god who chooses a portion of the slain, and her answers are given grudgingly and with a good deal of hostility (interestingly, though Freyja takes a more friendly approach with Hyndla than Oðin does with the volva in Baldr’s Draumar, the results are very similar). Like many other giants, such as Vafthruðnir, Hyndla is possessed of a great deal of knowledge of the past, and like Geirroðr, she is able to see through magical disguises, immediately recognizing Freyja’s boar as Ottar.
In addition to acting as volva, Hyndla may occupy a role in relation to Ottar and Freyja similar to that of the giantesses in the Helgi poems in relation to Helgi and his valkyrie lover/helper, a sort of dark and hostile counter to the bright dis aiding the mortal; though Hyndla gives more aid to Ottar than the giantesses to Helgi, both Hyndla and the other giantesses are prevented from bringing harm to the mortal man by the intervention of his divine helper.
Because the giants are not typically associated with dogs, Nasstrom tentatively speculates that Hyndla may be intended to be a female counterpart to Fenrir or Garm. There is also a possibility that Hyndla’s name may in some way be related to the piece of verse that led to the lesser outlawry of Hjalti Skeggjason not long before the conversion in Iceland: Vil ek eigi goð geyja: grey thykki mer Freyja (“I don’t want to mock the gods (/the gods to bark); to me Freyja seems to be a bitch”) (cited in North 387).
Among the Rokkatru Northern Tradition people, Hyndla is a goddess of genealogy; according to them, she gives the gods advice on human breeding experiments, can tell humans about genetic diseases, once guarded the mead of poetry, lives in a cave with a bunch of dogs, and occasionally appears as a dog-headed woman. The Northern Tradition folk say their information comes “from myth, history, and inspiration”; most of this would seem to be from the “inspiration” part of their sources.
In chapter 25 of Gylfaginning, Snorri says of Freyja that “she is the most approachable one for people to pray to.” Because he apparently knew of at least part of Hyndluljoð (the part he cites in chapter 5), it is possible that he bases this statement in part on Freyja’s willingness to help Ottar in his wager against Angantyr. Quinn notes that Snorri also refers to Freyja as blot-gyðja in Heimskringla and suggests a connection there, that she was “an important focus of the human desire for divine intercession” (268).
In stanza 10, after Freyja describes the altar Ottar made and the sacrifices he performed there, she declares “æ truði Ottarr a asynjur.” Many English translations of the poem render this line something like Orchard’s translation: “Ottar has always had faith in goddesses.” Though of the Vanir, Freyja appears to be numbering herself among the Asynjur in this statement.
Nasstrom contrasts the gifts Freyja intends to ask of Oðin with those given characters in Sigrdrifumal and Rigsthula and notes that Freyja’s gifts include gold, which is absent from the other two poems, and exclude healing, which is a gift in both Sigrdrifumal and Rigsthula. She believes the difference is due to Freyja’s warriors being more involved with Dumezil’s third function (wealth and prosperity) while Odinic heroes like Sigurd are more closely related to the first function (magic and priesthood).
Hyndla says of Freyja in stanza 6 that “er thu hefir ver thinn i valsinni”: “you’re taking your lover off to Slain-Hall” (Orchard translation), and near the end of the poem, Hyndla repeatedly accuses Freyja of promiscuity. This, combined with Freyja’s disguising Ottar as a boar and riding him, may suggest an erotic relationship of some kind between goddess and worshipper (though some modern Heathens have suggested that Ottar’s seeming transformation is related to the idea that witches would ride a sleeper or the sleeper’s spirit in some form throughout the night or that Ottar’s being ridden by Freyja is indicative of some sort of “horsing” ritual to gain privileged knowledge).
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. (1964) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe.
—. (1989) Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe.
—. (1998) Roles of the Northern Goddess.
Fleck, J. (1970) “Konr-Ottar-Geirrod,” Scandinavian Studies 42.
“FreyjaFirst” http://freyjafirst.com/Index.aspx Accessed May 2012
Grimm, J. (2004) Teutonic Mythology Volume 1. Translated by James Stallybrass.
Gundarsson, K. et al. (2006) Our Troth 2nd Edition Volume 1: History and Lore.
“Hyndla’s Shrine: Who is Hyndla?” http://www.northernpaganism.org/shrines/hyndla/about.html Accessed May 2012
“Hyndluljóð” http://heimskringla.no/wiki/Hyndluljóð Accessed May 2012
Nasstrom, B. (2003) Freyja, the Great Goddess of the North.
North, R. “goð geyja: the limits of humour in Old Norse- Icelandic paganism” http://sydney.edu.au/arts/medieval/saga/pdf/386-north.pdf Accessed May 2012
The Poetic Edda. (1936) Translated with commentary by Henry Bellows.
—. (1996) Translated with commentary by Carolyne Larrington.
—. (2011). Translated with commentary by Andy Orchard.
Quinn, J. (2002 ) “Dialogue with a volva: Voluspa, Baldrs draumar and Hyndluljoð,” The Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Mythology.
Rydberg, V. (2003) Our Fathers’ Godsaga Retold for the Young. Translated by William Reaves.
—. (2004) Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume 2 Part 2: Germanic Mythology. Translated and annotated by William Reaves.
—. (2007) Investigations into Germanic Mythology Volume 2 Part 1: Indo-European Mythology. Translated and annotated by William Reaves.
Simek, R. (1993) Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Translated by Angela Hall.
Snorri Sturluson. (1987) Edda. Translated by Anthony Faulkes.
Steinsland, G. (1991) Det Hellige Bryllup og Norrøn Kongeideologi.
The Saga of King Heidrik the Wise. (1960) Translated with notes by Christopher Tolkien. http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/The%20Saga%20Of%20King%20Heidrek%20The%20Wise.pdf Accessed May 2012
“The Song of the She-Wolf – Hyndluljóð Poetic Edda” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3ZqlXzIDqo Accessed May 2012.