Havamal is very long. I have therefor cut the article into two parts. The part on Lodfafnir will appear next.
For this read along series I am using Carolyne Larrington’s translation, as that is the copy that I own. Those of you following at home may have a different translation and therefore some details may be different.
Previous Poem: Voluspa
Havamal is poem that is best seen as a compilation of several poems united by theme, rather than a single poem in and of itself. Whether Havamal was compiled by the unknown author of *R, or it was simply transcribed from an earlier compilation, we cannot say. Because of the mish-mashed nature of the poem, and it’s incredible length, it has been separated into 4 sections for the following analysis.
The poem is generally united by the themes of social expectations and codes, and Odinn’s wisdom. There are multiple places where it seems that pairs of stanzas from other, unknown poems were inserted due to their thematic content. It is not unusual when reading Havamal to come across a series of stanzas that repeat a key, unifying phrase that is not seen in any other location of the poem. Having each stanza begin the same way is something that we see in other poem sections which likely came from a single poem (notably the Loddfafnir section) and it seems likely that the layout and style of these wisdom poems was somewhat consistent. Poems were likely chosen for compilation not only because of their thematic content, but also because of their poetic style.
The first section is the largest, most random section. It is a collection of random stanzas from what appears to be many different poems, pulled together into thematic groups. It opens up with a few stanzas about hosting and being a good guest (a theme which re-occurs several times in this section.)
This large section opens the poem with a stanza that feels out of place and reflects a great kind of paranoia, warning the reader to beware of their surroundings. It is a very strange and distrustful way to open a poem whose biggest section is about social graces.
Stanzas 2-5 feel much more natural, and indeed the enthusiastic opening of stanza 2 (“Blessed be the givers!”) seems to fit much better with the theme that follows through the rest of the section. Stanzas 10 and 11 match each other, and seem to not quite fit the themes of what came before, focusing on travel wisdom, rather than guest etiquette. It seems likely that these were inserted here in order to provide a transition to the section beginning with stanza 12 about alcohol. However, the transition is clumsy and it seems clear that these stanzas don’t belong to this poem.
The entire first section continues in this way, with groups of two to three stanzas at a time seeming to come from the same poems, thrown together in thematic sections. This is a very weird way to consolidate lore, and it seems like the original compiler was trying to preserve the most important parts of the wisdom poems in a single document- though why they would break it up into pieces and reorganize it, rather than making a long document that recorded all of them, is far less clear.
I attempted to determine how many poems are represented in this first section, but with the information available to me it is almost impossible to tell, and I do not have the knowledge to be able to parse out the original stanzas to try to detect poetic patterns that represent a unified section. I must rely on the translation. Grouping stanzas into those which obviously belong together (share repeated phases), I assumed the remaining filler in between each section attributed to a single poem, though likely it does not since they are extreme disjointed. None the less, using this method I separated out a minimum of 46 poems contributing to Havamal before the section with Loddfafnir.
The last few poems in this list are actually substantial sections and not fragmented, and therefore I will devote most of my attention to them.
The first section of this kind begins with stanza 96, marked by a switch to the first person that is sustained for several stanzas. The narrator is identified through dialog as Odinn. The story in this section is not attested in any other document, and chronicles the story of him attempting to win over the heart and body of Billing’s daughter (who is not named.) The clever woman outsmarts him by telling him to return in the evening, and tying a dog to her bed in her place. Thus Odinn was humiliated and did not win the woman. This is an episode that is not often talked about mythological discussion.
The second substantial poem insert begins at stanza 104, where we see Odinn in first person recalling the events leading up to his taking the Mead of Poetry. He summarizes his seduction of Gunnlod and how she helped him to escape with the mead, but expresses some weight of conscience for using her in such a manner. Rather interestingly, Odinn both describes her in a poor light, “a cheaply bought beauty” and in a positive one, “that good woman.” He reflects that without her help he never would have succeeded in taking the mead, and that he did not pay her back appropriately for her dead but instead used her and left her heavy-hearted.
The stanza immediately following this section (109) begins, “The next day the frost-giants went to ask for the High One’s advice, in the High One’s hall.” Although this seems to be a continuation of the previous narrative, it is clear that it is not, and is instead a section taken from a different poem, It is this stanza that marks the beginning of Loddfafnir.