|There was a king in Sweden named Nithuth. He had two sons and one daughter; her name was Bothvild. There were three brothers, sons of a king of the Finns: one was called Slagfith, another Egil, the third Volund. They went on snowshoes and hunted wild beasts. They came into Ulfdalir and there they built themselves a house; there was a lake there which is called Ulfsjar.
Early one morning they found on the shore of the lake three women, who were spinning flax. Near them were their swan-garments, for they were Valkyries. Two of them were daughters of King Hlothver, Hlathguth the Swan-White and Hervor the All-Wise, and the third was Olrun, daughter of Kjar from Valland. These did they bring home to their hall with them. Egil took Olrun, and Slagfith Swan-White, and Volund All-Wise. There they dwelt seven winters; but then they flew away to find battles, and came back no more. Then Egil set forth on his snowshoes to follow Olrun, and Slagfith followed Swan-White, but Volund stayed in Ulfdalir. He was a most skillful man, as men know from old tales. King Nithuth had him taken by force, as the poem here tells.
|Nithuth ("Bitter Hater"): here identified as a king of Sweden, is in the poem called lord of the Njars, which may refer to the people of the Swedish district of Nerike. The story has clearly moved from Saxon lands into Scandinavia. The annotator, anxious to give the Saxon legend as much northern local colour as possible, was mistaken in his mythology, and the original poet never conceived of his swan-maidens as Valkyries at all. However, this identification of swan-maidens with Valkyries was not uncommon. King of the Finns: this notion, clearly later than the poem, which calls Volund an elf, may perhaps be ascribed to the annotator. The Finns, meaning the dwellers in Lapland, were generally credited with magic powers. Egil appears in the Thithrekssaga as Volund's brother, but Slagfith is not elsewhere mentioned. Ulfdalir: "Wolf-dale". Ulfsjar: "Wolf-sea".|
|1. Maids from the south through Myrkwood flew,
Fair and young, their fate to follow;
On the shore of the sea to rest them they sat,
The maids of the south, and flax they spun.
|The manuscript indicates line 3 as the beginning of a stanza; two lines may have been lost before or after lines 1-2, and two more, or even six, with the additional stanza describing the theft of the swan-garments, after line 4. Myrkwood: a stock name for a magic, dark forest.|
Hlathguth and Hervor, Hlothver's children,
And Olrun the Wise, Kjar's daughter was.
|In the manuscript these two lines stand after stanza 16; editors have tried to fit them into various places, but the prose indicates that they belong here, with a gap assumed.|
| 3. ............................................................
One in her arms took Egil then
To her bosom white, the woman fair.
|In the manuscript these two lines follow stanza 1, with no gap indicated, and the first line marked as the beginning of a stanza. Many editors have combined them with stanza 4.|
|4. Swan-White second; swan-feathers she wore,
And her arms the third of the sisters threw
Next round Volund's neck so white.
|No gap indicated in the manuscript; one editor fills the stanza out with a second line running: "Then to her breast Slagfith embraced."|
|5. There did they sit for seven winters,
In the eighth at last came their longing again,
(And in the ninth did need divide them).
The maidens yearned for the murky wood,
The fair young maids, their fate to follow.
|Line 3 looks like an interpolation, but line 5, identical with line 2 of stanza 1, may be the superfluous one.|
|6. Volund home from his hunting came,
From a weary way, the weather-wise bowman,
Slagfith and Egil the hall found empty,
Out and in went they, everywhere seeking.
|The phrase "Volund home from a weary way" is an amendment of Bugge's, accepted by many editors. Some of those who do not include it reject line 4, and combine the remainder of the stanza with all or part of stanza 7.|
|7. East fared Egil after Olrun,
And Slagfith south to seek for Swan-White;
Volund alone in Ulfdalir lay,
|The manuscript marks the second, and not the first, line as the beginning of a stanza. Some editors combine lines 2-3 with all or part of stanza 8. No gap is indicated in the manuscript, but many editors have assumed one, some of them accepting Bugge's suggested "Till back the maiden bright should come."|
|8. Red gold he fashioned with fairest gems,
And rings he strung on ropes of bast;
So for his wife he waited long,
If the fair one home might come to him.
|No line here is indicated in the manuscript as beginning a new stanza; editors have tried all sorts of experiments regrouping the lines into stanzas with those of stanzas 7 and 9. In line 3 the word long is sheer guesswork, as the line in the manuscript contains a metrical error.|
|9. This Nithuth learned, the lord of the Njars,
That Volund alone in Ulfdalir lay;
By night went his men, their mail-coats were studded,
Their shields in the waning moonlight shone.
|Some editors combine the first two lines with parts of stanza 8, and the last two with the first half of stanza 10.|
|10.From their saddles the gable wall they sought,
And in they went at the end of the hall;
Rings they saw there on ropes of bast,
Seven hundred the hero had.
|Some editors combine lines 3-4 with the fragmentary stanza 11.|
|11. Off they took them, but all they left
Save one alone which they bore away.
|No gap indicated in the manuscript; some editors combine these lines with lines 3-4 of stanza 10, while the others combine them with the first two lines of stanza 12. The one ring which Nithuth's men steal is given to Bothvild, and triggers her fate.|
|12. Volund home from his hunting came,
From a weary way, the weather-wise bowman;
A brown bear's flesh would he roast with fire;
Soon the wood so dry was burning well,
(The wind-dried wood that Volund's was).
|The manuscript indicates line 3, and not line 1, as the beginning of a stanza, which has given rise to a large amount of conjectural rearrangement. Line 2 of the original is identical with the phrase added by Bugge in stanza 6. Line 5 may be spurious, or lines 4-5 may have been expanded out of a single line running "The wind-dried wood for Volund burned well."|
|13. On the bearskin he rested, and counted the rings,
The master of elves, but one he missed;
That Hlothver's daughter had it he thought,
And the All-Wise maid had come once more.
|Elves: the poem here identifies Volund as belonging to the race of the elves. Hlothver's daughter: Hervor; many editors treat the adjective "all-wise" here as a proper name.|
|14. So long he sat that he fell asleep,
His waking empty of gladness was;
Heavy chains he saw on his hands,
And fetters bound his feet together.
15. "What men are they who thus have laid
Ropes of bast to bind me now?"
Then Nithuth called, the lord of the Njars:
|The manuscript indicates the speakers. Some editors make lines 1-2 into a separate stanza, linking lines 3-5 (or 4-5) with stanza 16. Line 3 is very possibly spurious, a mere expansion of "Nithuth spake." Nithuth, of course, has come with his men to capture Volund, and now charges him with having stolen his treasure.|
16. "The gold was not on Grani's way,
Far, methinks, is our realm from the hills of the Rhine;
I mind me that treasures more we had
When happy together at home we were."
|The manuscript definitely assigns this stanza to Volund, but many editors give the first two lines to Nithuth. In the manuscript stanza 16 is followed by the two lines of stanza 2, and many editions make of lines 3-4 of stanza 16 and stanza 2 a single speech by Volund. Grani's way: Grani was Sigurth's horse, on which he rode to slay Fafnir and win Andvari's hoard; this and the reference to the Rhine as the home of wealth betray the southern source of the story. If lines 1-2 belong to Volund, they mean that Nithuth got his wealth in the Rhine country, and that Volund's hoard has nothing to do with it; if the speaker is Nithuth, they mean that Volund presumably has not killed a dragon, and that he is far from the wealth of the Rhine, so that he must have stolen his treasure from Nithuth himself.|
|17. Without stood the wife of Nithuth wise,
And in she came from the end of the hall;
On the floor she stood, and softly spoke:
"Not kind does he look who comes from the wood."
|Line 1 is lacking in the manuscript, lines 2-4 following immediately after the two lines here given as stanza 2. Line 1, borrowed from line 1 of stanza 32, is placed here by many editors, following Bugge's suggestion. Certainly it is Nithuth's wife who utters line 4. Who comes from the wood: Volund, noted as a hunter. Gering assumes that with the entrance of Nithuth's wife the scene has changed from Volund's house to Nithuth's, but I cannot see that this is necessary.|
|King Nithuth gave to his daughter Bothvild the gold ring that he had taken from the bast rope in Volund's house, and he himself wore the sword that Volund had had. The queen spake:||The annotator inserted this note rather clumsily in the midst of the speech of Nithuth's wife.|
|18. "The glow of his eyes is like gleaming snakes,
His teeth he gnashes if now is shown
The sword, or Bothvild's ring he sees;
Let them straightway cut his sinews of strength,
And set him then in Saevarstath."
|In the manuscript lines 2-3 stand before line 1; many editors have made the transposition here indicated. Some editors reject line 3 as spurious. Saevarstath: "Sea-Stead".|
|So was it done: the sinews in his knee-joints were cut, and he was set in an island which was near the mainland, and was called Saevarstath. There he smithied for the king all kinds of precious things. No man dared to go to him, save only the king himself. Volund spake:|
|19. "At Nithuth's girdle gleams the sword
That I sharpened keen with cunningest craft,
(And hardened the steel with highest skill;)
The bright blade far forever is borne,
(Nor back shall I see it borne to my smithy;)
Now Bothvild gets the golden ring
(That was once my bride's,-- ne'er well shall it be.)"
|This stanza is obviously in bad shape. Vigfusson makes two stanzas of it by adding a first line: "Then did Volund speak, sagest of elves." Editors have rejected various lines, and some have regrouped the last lines with the first two of stanza 20. The elimination of the passages in parenthesis produces a four-line stanza which is metrically correct, but it has little more than guesswork to support it.|
|20. He sat, nor slept, and smote with his hammer,
Fast for Nithuth wonders he fashioned;
Two boys did go in his door to gaze,
Nithuth's sons, into Saevarstath.
|The editions vary radically in combining the lines of this stanza with those of stanzas 19 and 21, particularly as the manuscript indicates the third line as the beginning of a stanza. The meaning, however, remains unchanged.|
|21. They came to the chest, and they craved the keys,
The evil was open when in they looked;
To the boys it seemed that gems they saw,
Gold in plenty and precious stones.
|Several editions make one stanza out of lines 3-4 of stanza 20 and lines 1-2 of stanza 21, and another out of the next four liens. The evil was open: i.e., the gold in the chest was destined to be their undoing.|
22. "Come ye alone, the next day come,
Gold to you both shall then be given;
Tell not the maids or the men of the hall,
To no one say that me you have sought."
|The manuscript indicates line 3 as the beginning of a stanza, and several editors have adopted this grouping. In the Thithrekssaga Volund sends the boys away with instructions not to come back until just after a fall of snow, and then to approach his dwelling walking backward. The boys do this, and when, after he has killed them, Volund is questioned regarding them, he points to the tracks in the snow as evidence that they had left his house.|
Early did brother to brother call:
"Swift let us go the rings to see."
|No gap indicated in the manuscript. Some editors assume it, as here; some group the lines with lines 3-4 of stanza 22, and some with lines 1-2 of stanza 24.|
|24. They came to the chest, and they craved the keys,
The evil was open when in they looked;
He smote off their heads, and their feet he hid
Under the sooty straps of the bellows.
|Some editions begin a new stanza with line 3.|
|25. Their skulls, once hid by their hair, he took,
Set them in silver and sent them to Nithuth;
Gems full fair from their eyes he fashioned,
To Nithuth's wife so wise he gave them.
|The manuscript indicates line 3 as the beginning of a stanza, and many editors have adopted this grouping.|
|26. And from the teeth of the twain he wrought
A brooch for the breast, to Bothvild he sent it;
|These two lines have been grouped in various ways, either with lines 3-4 of stanza 25 or with the fragmentary stanza 27. No gap is indicated in the manuscript, but the loss of something is so obvious that practically all editors have noted it, although they have differed as to the number of lines lost.|
|27. Bothvild then of her ring did boast,
............................."The ring I have broken,
I dare not say it save to thee."
|No gap indicated in the manuscript; the line and a half might be filled out (partly with the aid of late paper manuscripts) thus: "But soon it broke, and swiftly to Volund / She bore it and said-"|
28. "I shall weld the break in the gold so well
That fairer than ever thy father shall find it,
And better much thy mother shall think it,
And thou no worse than ever it was."
|29. Beer he brought, he was better in cunning,
Until in her seat full soon she slept.
"Now vengeance I have for all my hurts,
Save one alone, on the evil woman."
|The manuscript does not name Volund as the speaker before line 3; Vigfusson again inserts his convenient line, "Then Volund spake, sagest of elves." A few editions combine lines 3-4 with the two lines of stanza 30.|
Quoth Volund: "Would that well were the sinews
Maimed in my feet by Nithuth's men."
|No gap indicated in the manuscript; some editors combine the two lines with lines 3-4 of stanza 29, and many with the three lines of stanza 31.|
|31. Laughing Volund rose aloft,
Weeping Bothvild went from the isle,
For her lover's flight and her father's wrath.
|Something has probably been lost before this stanza, explaining how Volund made himself wings, as otherwise, owing to his lameness, he could not leave the island. The Thithrekssaga tells the story of how Volund's brother, Egil, shot birds and gave him the feathers, out of which he made a feather-garment. Some editors reject line 3 as spurious. The manuscript does not indicate any gap.|
|32. Without stood the wife of Nithuth wise,
And in she came from the end of the hall;
But he by the wall in weariness sat:
"Wakest thou, Nithuth, lord of the Njars?"
|The manuscript indicates line 4 as the beginning of a stanza, and many editors have followed this arrangement.|
33. "Always I wake, and ever joyless,
Little I sleep since my sons were slain;
Cold is my head, cold was thy counsel,
One thing, with Volund to speak, I wish.
|The manuscript does not name the speaker. It indicates line 3 as the beginning of a new stanza. Vigfusson adds before line 1, "Then spake Nithuth, lord of the Njars."|
Answer me, Volund, greatest of elves,
What happed with my boys that hale once were?"
|No gap indicated in the manuscript, but it seems clear that something has been lost. Some editors combine these two lines with lines 3-4 of stanza 33. Volund is now flying over Nithuth's hall.|
35. "First shalt thou all the oaths now swear,
By the rail of ship, and the rim of shield,
By the shoulder of steed, and the edge of sword,
That to Volund's wife thou wilt work no ill,
Nor yet my bride to her death wilt bring,
Though a wife I should have that well thou knowest,
And a child I should have within thy hall.
|The manuscript does not name the speaker; Vigfusson again makes two full stanzas with the line, "Then did Volund speak, sagest of elves." Some editors begin a new stanza with line 4, while others reject as interpolations lines 2-3 or 5-7. Volund's wife: the reference is to Bothvild, as Volund wishes to have his vengeance fall more heavily on her father than on her.|
|36. "Seek the smithy that thou didst set,
Thou shalt find the bellows sprinkled with blood;
I smote off the heads of both thy sons,
And their feet 'neath the sooty straps I hid.
|Lines 3-4 are nearly identical with lines 3-4 of stanza 24.|
|37. "Their skulls, once hid by their hair, I took,
Set them in silver and sent them to Nithuth;
Gems full fair from their eyes I fashioned,
To Nithuth's wife so wise I gave them.
|Identical, except for the pronouns, with stanza 25.|
|38. "And from the teeth of the twain I wrought
A brooch for the breast, to Bothvild I gave it;
Now big with child does Bothvild go,
The only daughter ye two had ever."
|Lines 1-2: cf. stanza 26.|
39. "Never spakest thou word that worse could hurt me,
Nor that made me, Volund, more bitter for vengeance;
There is no man so high from thy horse to take thee,
Or so doughty an archer as down to shoot thee,
While high in the clouds thy course thou takest."
|The manuscript does not name the speaker. Either line 4 or line 5 may be an interpolation; two editions reject lines 3-5, combining lines 1-2 with stanza 40. In the Thithrekssaga Nithuth actually compels Egil, Volund's brother, to shoot at Volund. The latter has concealed a bladder full of blood under his left arm, and when his brother's arrow pierces this, Nithuth assumes that his enemy has been killed. This episode likewise appears among the scenes from Volund's career rudely carved on an ancient casket of ivory, bearing an Anglo-Saxon inscription in runic letters, which has been preserved.|
|40. Laughing Volund rose aloft,
But left in sadness Nithuth sat.
|Line 1: cf. stanza 31. The manuscript indicates no gap.|
|41.Then spake Nithuth, lord of the Njars:
"Rise up, Thakkrath, best of my thralls,
Bid Bothvild come, the bright-browed maid,
Bedecked so fair, with her father to speak."
|The first line is a conjectural addition. Thakkrath is probably the northern form of the Middle High German name Dancrat.|
"Is it true, Bothvild, that which was told me;
Once in the isle with Volund wert thou?"
|The manuscript indicates no gap, but indicates line 3 as the beginning of a stanza; Vigfusson's added "Then Nithuth spake, lord of the Njars" seems plausible enough.|
43. "True is it, Nithuth, that which was told thee,
Once in the isle with Volund was I,
An hour of lust, alas it should be!
Nought was my might with such a man,
Nor from his strength could I save myself."
|The manuscript does not name the speaker. Different editors have rejected one or another of the last three lines, and as the manuscript indicates line 4 as the beginning of a new stanza, the loss of two or three lines has likewise been suggested. According to the Thithrekssaga, the son of Volund and Bothvild was Vithga, or Witege, one of the heroes of Dietrich of Bern.|
In 1643, Brynjolfur Sveinsson, Bishop of Skalholt, discovered a manuscript, clearly written as early as 1300, containing twenty-nine poems, complete or fragmentary, and some of them with the very lines and stanzas used in the later Prose Edda. Great was the joy of the scholars, for here, of course, must be at least a part of the long-sought Edda of Saemund the Wise. Thus the good bishop promptly labelled his find, and as Saemund's Edda, the Elder Edda or the Poetic Edda it has been known to this day.
This precious manuscript, now in the Royal Library in Copenhagen, and known as the Codex Regius (R2365), has been the basis for all published editions of the Eddic poems. The Volundarkvitha forms one badly damaged chapter of this ancient manuscript. Like the Welsh Mabinogion, it was clearly the work of an early medieval narrator setting down oral traditions of a much earlier, pagan age.
Despite the influence of the Norse myths and legends on the English-speaking world, translations of this epic are remarkably hard to come by. This translation plus the notes are quoted from the book Poetic Edda by Henry Adams Bellows, published by The Edwin Mellen Press, Box 450, Lewiston, New York, 14092, USA. ISBN: 0-88946-783-8. Reproduced here with permission.