Reginsmál (Sigurðarkviða Fáfnisbana II) – The Lay of Regin


aka The Ballad of Regin, The Lay of Regin

Bellows’s notes on the poem

Introductory Note:

The Reginsmol immediately follows the Gripisspo in the Codex Regius, and in addition stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 18 are quoted in the Volsungasaga, and stanzas 11-26 in the Nornageststhattr. In no instance is the title of the poem stated, and in Regius there stands before the introductory prose, very faintly written, what appears to be “Of Sigurth.” As a result, various titles have been affixed to it, the two most often used being “the Ballad of Regin” and “the First Lay of Sigurth Fafnisbane.”

As a matter of fact, it is by no means clear that the compiler of the Eddic collection regarded this or either of the two following poems, the Fafnismol and the Sigrdrifumol, as separate and distinct poems at all. There are no specific titles given, and the prose notes link the three poems in a fairly consecutive whole. Furthermore, the prose passage introducing the Reginsmol connects directly with Fra Dautha Sinfjotla, and only the insertion of the Gripisspo at this point, which may well have been done by some stupid copyist, breaks the continuity of the story. For convenience I have here followed the usual plan of dividing this material into distinct parts, or poems, but I greatly doubt if this division is logically sound. The compiler seems, rather, to have undertaken to set down the story of Sigurth in consecutive form, making use of all the verse with which he was familiar, and which, by any stretch of the imagination, could be made to fit, filling up the gaps with prose narrative notes based on the living oral tradition.

This view is supported by the fact that not one of the three poems in question, and least of all the Reginsmol, can possibly be regarded as a unit. For one thing, each of them includes both types of stanza commonly used in the Eddic poems, and this, notwithstanding the efforts of Grundtvig and Müllenhoff to prove the contrary, is almost if not quite conclusive proof that each poem consists of material taken from more than one source. Furthermore, there is nowhere continuity within the verse itself for more than a very few stanzas. An analysis of the Reginsmol shows that stanzas 1-4, 6-10, and 12, all in Ljothahattr stanza form, seem to belong together as fragments of a poem dealing with Loki’s (not Andvari’s) curse on the gold taken by the gods from Andvari and paid to Hreithmar, together with Hreithmar’s death at the hands of his son, Fafnir, as the first result of this curse. Stanza 5, in Fornyrthislag, is a curse on the gold, here ascribed to Andvari, but the only proper name in the stanza, Gust, is quite unidentifiable, and the stanza may originally have had to do with a totally different story. Stanza 11, likewise in Fornyrthislag, is merely a father’s demand that his daughter rear a family to avenge his death; there is nothing in it to link it necessarily with the dying Hreithmar. Stanzas 13-18, all in Fornyrthislag, give Regin’s welcome to Sigurth (stanzas 13,14), Sigurth’s announcement that he will avenge his father’s death on the sons of Hunding before he seeks any treasure (stanza 15), and a dialogue between a certain Hnikar, who is really Othin, and Regin, as the latter and Sigurth are on the point of being shipwrecked. This section (stanzas 13-19) bears a striking resemblance to the Helgi lays, and may well have come originally from that cycle. Next follows a passage in Ljothahattr form (stanzas 19-22 and 24-25) in which Hnikar-Othin gives some general advice as to lucky omens and good conduct in battle; the entire passage might equally well stand in the Hovamol, and I suspect that it originally came from just such a collection of wise saws. Inserted in this passage is stanza 23, in Fornyrthislag, likewise on the conduct of battle, with a bit of tactical advice included. The “poem” ends with a single stanza, in Fornyrthislag, simply stating that the bloody fight is over and that Sigurth fought well–a statement equally applicable to any part of the hero’s career.

Finnur Jonsson has divided the Reginsmol into two poems, or rather into two sets of fragments, but this, as the foregoing analysis has indicated, does not appear to go nearly far enough. It accords much better with the facts to assume that the compiler of the collection represented by the Codex Regius, having set out to tell the story of Sigurth, took his verse fragments pretty much wherever he happened to find them. In this connection, it should be remembered that in the fluid state of oral tradition poems, fragments, and stanzas passed readily and frequently from one story to another. Tradition, never critical, doubtless connected with the Sigurth story much verse that never originated there.

If the entire passage beginning with the prose Fra Dautha Sinfjotla, and, except for the Gripisspo, including the Reginsmol, Fafnismol, and Sigrdrifumol, be regarded as a highly uncritical piece of compilation, rendered consecutive by the compiler’s prose narrative, its difficulties are largely smoothed away; any other way of looking at it results in utterly inconclusive attempts to reconstruct poems some of which quite possibly never existed. The twenty-six stanzas and accompanying prose notes included under the heading of Reginsmol belong almost wholly to the northern part of the Sigurth legend; the mythological features have no counterpart in the southern stories, and only here and there is there any betrayal of the tradition’s Frankish home. The story of Andvari, Loki, and Hreithmar is purely Norse, as is the concluding section containing Othin’s counsels. If we assume that the passage dealing with the victory over Hunding’s sons belongs to the Helgi cycle (cf. introductory notes to Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar and Helgakvitha Hundingsbana I), there is very little left to reflect the Sigurth tradition proper.

Regarding the general development of the story of Sigurth in the North, see the introductory note to the Gripisspo.


Sigurth went to Hjalprek’s stud and chose for himself a horse, who thereafter was called Grani. At that time Regin, the son of Hreithmar, was come to Hjalprek’s home; he was more ingenious than all other men, and a dwarf in stature; he was wise, fierce and skilled in magic. Regin undertook Sigurth’s bringing up and teaching, and loved him much. He told Sigurth of his forefathers, and also of this: that once Othin and Hönir and Loki had come to Andvari’s waterfall, and in the fall were many fish. Andvari was a dwarf, who had dwelt long in the waterfall in the shape of a pike, and there he got his food. “Otr was the name of a brother of ours,” said. Regin, “who often went into the fall in the shape of an otter; he had caught a salmon, and sat on the high bank eating it with his eyes shut. Loki threw a stone at him and killed him; the gods thought they bad had great good luck, and stripped the skin off the otter. That same evening they sought a night’s lodging at Hreithmar’s house, and showed their booty. Then we seized them, and told them, as ransom for their lives, to fill the otter skin with gold, and completely cover it outside as well with red gold. Then they sent Loki to get the gold; he went to Rán and got her net, and went then to Andvari’s fall and cast the net in front of the pike, and the pike leaped into the net.” Then Loki said: