Rígsþula – The Song of Rig

They tell in old stories that one of the gods, whose name was Heimdall, went on his way along a certain seashore, and came to a dwelling, where he called himself Rig. According to these stories is the following poem:

1. Men say there went | by ways so green
Of old the god, | the aged and wise,
Mighty and strong | did Rig go striding.
. . . . . . . . . .

2. Forward he went | on the midmost way,
He came to a dwelling, | a door on its posts;
In did he fare, | on the floor was a fire,
Two hoary ones | by the hearth there sat,
Ai and Edda, | in olden dress.

3. Rig knew well | wise words to speak,
Soon in the midst | of the room he sat,
And on either side | the others were.

4. A loaf of bread | did Edda bring,
Heavy and thick | and swollen with husks;
Forth on the table | she set the fare,
And broth for the meal | in a bowl there was.
(Calf’s flesh boiled | was the best of the dainties.)

5. Rig knew well | wise words to speak,
Thence did he rise, | made ready to sleep;
Soon in the bed | himself did he lay,
And on either side | the others were.

Prose. It would be interesting to know how much the annotator meant by the phrase old stories. Was he familiar with the tradition in forms other than that of the poem? If so, his introductory note was scanty, for, outside of identifying Rig as Heimdall, he provides no information not found in the poem. Probably he meant simply to refer to the poem itself as a relic of antiquity, and the identification of Rig as Heimdall may well have been an attempt at constructive criticism of his own. The note was presumably written somewhere about 1300, or even later, and there is no reason for crediting the annotator with any considerable knowledge of mythology. There is little to favor the identification of Rig with Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, beyond a few rather vague passages in the other poems. Thus in Voluspo, I, the Volva asks hearing “from Heimdall’s sons both high and low”; in Grimnismol, 13, there is a very doubtful line which may mean that Heimdall “o’er men holds sway, it is said,” and in “the Short Voluspo” (Hyndluljoth, 40) he is called “the kinsman of men.” On the other hand, everything in the Rigsthula, including the phrase “the aged and wise” in stanza I, and the references to runes in stanzas 36, 44, and 46, fits Othin exceedingly well. It seems probable that the annotator was wrong, and that Rig is Othin, and not Heimdall. Rig: almost certainly based on the Old Irish word for “king,” “ri” or “rig.”

1. No gap is indicated, but editors have generally assumed one. Some editors, however, add line 1 of stanza 2 to stanza 1.

2. Most editions make line 5 a part of the stanza, as here, but some indicate it as the sole remnant of one or more stanzas descriptive of Ai and Edda, just as Afi and Amma, Fathir and Mothir, are later described. Ai and Edda: Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother; the latter name was responsible for Jakob Grimm’s famous guess at the meaning of the word “Edda” as applied to the whole collection (cf. Introduction).

3. A line may have been lost from this stanza.

4. Line 5 has generally been rejected as spurious.

5. The manuscript has lines 1-2 in inverse order, but marks the word “Rig” as the beginning of a stanza.