Poetic Edda


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  • Translated By
    Publishing Date
    • Henry Adams Bellows

The Ballad of Fafnir

Introductory Note

The so-called Fafnismol, contained in full in the Codex Regius, where it immediately follows the Reginsmol without any indication of a break, is quoted by Snorri in the Gylfaginning (stanza 13) and the Skaldskaparmal (stanzas 32 and 33), and stanzas 6, 3, and 4 appear in the Sverrissaga. Although the Volsungasaga does not actually quote any of the stanzas, it gives a very close prose parallel to the whole poem in chapters 18 and 19.

The general character of the Fafnismol, and its probable relation to the Reginsmol and the Sigrdrifumol, have been discussed in the introductory note to the Reginsmol. While it is far more nearly a unit than the Reginsmol, it shows many of the same characteristics. It has the same mixture of stanza forms, although in this case only nine stanzas (32–33, 35–36 and 40–44) vary from the normal Ljothahattr measure. It shows, though to a much less marked extent, the same tendency to introduce passages from extraneous sources, such as the question-and-answer passage in stanzas 11–15. At the same time, in this instance it is quite clear that one distinct poem, including probably stanzas 1–10, 16–23, 25–31, and 34–39, underlay the compilation which we here have. This may, perhaps, have been a long poem (not, however, the “Lone” Sigurth Lay; see introductory note to Brot af Sigurtharkvithu) dealing with the Regin-Fafnir-Sigurth-Brynhild story, and including, besides most of the Fafnismol, stanzas 1–4 and 6–11 of the Reginsmol and part of the so-called Sigrdrifumol, together with much that has been lost. The original poem may, on the other hand, have confined itself to the Fafnir episode. In any case, and while the extant Fafnismol can be spoken of as a distinct poem far more justly than the Reginsmol, there is still no indication that the compiler regarded it as a poem by itself. His prose notes run on without a break, and the verses simply cover a dramatic episode in Sigurth’s early life. The fact that the work of compilation has been done more intelligently than in the case of the Reginsmol seems to have resulted chiefly from the compiler’s having been familiar with longer consecutive verse passages dealing with the Fafnir episode.

The Reginsmol is little more than a clumsy mosaic, but in the Fafnismol it is possible to distinguish between the main substance of the poem and the interpolations.

Here, as in the Reginsmol, there is very little that bespeaks the German origin of the Sigurth story. Sigurth’s winning of the treasure is in itself undoubtedly a part of the earlier southern legend, but the manner in which he does it is thoroughly Norse. Moreover, the concluding section, which points toward the finding of the sleeping Brynhild, relates entirely to the northern Valkyrie, the warrior-maiden punished by Othin, and not at all to the southern Brynhild the daughter of Buthli. The Fafnismol is, however, sharply distinguished from the Reginsmol by showing no clear traces of the Helgi tradition, although a part of the bird song (stanzas 40–44, in Fornyrthislag form, as distinct from the body of the poem) sounds suspiciously like the bird passage in the beginning of the Helgakvitha Hjorvarthssonar. Regarding the general relations of the various sets of traditions in shaping the story of Sigurth, see the introductory note to Gripisspo.

The Fafnismol, together with a part of the Sigrdrifumol, has indirectly become the best known of all the Eddic poems, for the reason that Wagner used it, with remarkably little change of outline, as the basis for his “Siegfried.”

Sigurth and Regin went up to the Gnitaheith, and found there the track that Fafnir made when he crawled to water. Then Sigurth made a great trench across the path, and took his place therein. When Fafnir crawled from his gold, he blew out venom, and it ran down from above on Sigurth’s head. But when Fafnir crawled over the trench, then Sigurth thrust his sword into his body to the heart. Fafnir writhed and struck out with his head and tail. Sigurth leaped from the trench, and each looked at the other. Fafnir said:[1]

“Youth, oh, youth! of whom then, youth, art thou born?
Say whose son thou art,
Who in Fafnir’s blood thy bright blade reddened,
And struck thy sword to my heart.”

Sigurth concealed his name because it was believed in olden times that the word of a dying man might have great power if he cursed his foe by his name. He said:

“The Noble Hart my name, and I go
A motherless man abroad;
Father I had not, as others have,
And lonely ever I live.”

Fafnir spake:
“If father thou hadst not, as others have,
By what wonder wast thou born?
(Though thy name on the day of my death thou hidest,
Thou knowest now thou dost lie.)”

Sigurth spake:
“My race, methinks, is unknown to thee,
And so am I myself;
Sigurth my name, and Sigmund’s son,
Who smote thee thus with the sword.”

Fafnir spake:
“Who drove thee on? why wert thou driven
My life to make me lose?
A father brave had the bright-eyed youth,
For bold in boyhood thou art.”

Sigurth spake:
“My heart did drive me, my hand fulfilled,
And my shining sword so sharp;
Few are keen when old age comes,
Who timid in boyhood be.”

Fafnir spake:
“If thou mightest grow thy friends among,
One might see thee fiercely fight;
But bound thou art, and in battle taken,
And to fear are prisoners prone.”

Sigurth spake:
“Thou blamest me, Fafnir, that I see from afar
The wealth that my father’s was;
Not bound am I, though in battle taken,
Thou hast found that free I live.”

Fafnir spake:
“In all I say dost thou hatred see,
Yet truth alone do I tell;
The sounding gold, the glow-red wealth,
And the rings thy bane shall be.”

Sigurth spake:
“Some one the hoard shall ever hold,
Till the destined day shall come;
For a time there is when every man
Shall journey hence to hell.”

Fafnir spake:
“The fate of the Norns before the headland
Thou findest, and doom of a fool;
In the water shalt drown if thou row ’gainst the wind,
All danger is near to death.”

Sigurth spake:
“Tell me then, Fafnir, for wise thou art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
Who are the Norns who are helpful in need,
And the babe from the mother bring?”

Fafnir spake:
“Of many births the Norns must be,
Nor one in race they were;
Some to gods, others to elves are kin,
And Dvalin’s daughters some.”

Sigurth spake:
“Tell me then, Fafnir, for wise thou art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
How call they the isle where all the gods
And Surt shall sword-sweat mingle?”

Fafnir spake:
“Oskopnir is it, where all the gods
Shall seek the play of swords;
Bilrost breaks when they cross the bridge,
And the steeds shall swim in the flood.

“The fear-helm I wore to afright mankind,
While guarding my gold I lay;
Mightier seemed I than any man,
For a fiercer never I found.”

Sigurth spake:
“The fear-helm surely no man shields
When he faces a valiant foe;
Oft one finds, when the foe he meets,
That he is not the bravest of all.”

Fafnir spake:
“Venom I breathed when bright I lay
By the hoard my father had;
(There was none so mighty as dared to meet me,
And weapons nor wiles I feared.)”

Sigurth spake:
“Glittering worm, thy hissing was great,
And hard didst show thy heart;
But hatred more have the sons of men
For him who owns the helm.”

Fafnir spake:
“I counsel thee, Sigurth, heed my speech,
And ride thou homeward hence,
The sounding gold, the glow-red wealth,
And the rings thy bane shall be.”

Sigurth spake:
“Thy counsel is given, but go I shall
To the gold in the heather hidden;
And, Fafnir, thou with death dost fight,
Lying where Hel shall have thee.”

Fafnir spake:
“Regin betrayed me, and thee will betray,
Us both to death will he bring;
His life, methinks,cmust Fafnir lose,
For the mightier man wast thou.”

Regin had gone to a distance while Sigurth fought Fafnir, and came back while Sigurth was wiping the blood from his sword. Regin said:

“Hail to thee, Sigurth! Thou victory hast,
And Fafnir in fight hast slain;
Of all the men who tread the earth,
Most fearless art thou, methinks.”

Sigurth spake:
“Unknown it is, when all are together,
(The sons of the glorious gods,)
Who bravest born shall seem;
Some are valiant who redden no sword
In the blood of a foeman’s breast.”

Regin spake:
“Glad art thou, Sigurth, of battle gained,
As Gram with grass thou cleansest;
My brother fierce in fight hast slain,
And somewhat I did myself.”

Sigurth spake:
“Afar didst thou go while Fafnir reddened
With his blood my blade so keen;
With the might of the dragon my strength I matched,
While thou in the heather didst hide.”

Regin spake:
“Longer wouldst thou in the heather have let
Yon hoary giant hide,
Had the weapon availed not that once I forged,
The keen-edged blade thou didst bear.”

Sigurth spake:
“Better is heart than a mighty blade
For him who shall fiercely fight;
The brave man well shall fight and win,
Though dull his blade may be.

“Brave men better than cowards be,
When the clash of battle comes;
And better the glad than the gloomy man
Shall face what before him lies.

“Thy rede it was that I should ride
Hither o’er mountains high;
The glittering worm would have wealth and life
If thou hadst not mocked at my might.”

Then Regin went up to Fafnir and cut out his heart with his sword, that was named Rithil, and then he drank blood from the wounds. Regin said:[21]

“Sit now, Sigurth, for sleep will I,
Hold Fafnir’s heart to the fire;
For all his heart shall eaten be,
Since deep of blood I have drunk.”

Sigurth took Fafnir’s heart and cooked it on a spit. When he thought that it was fully cooked, and the blood foamed out of the heart, then he tried it with his finger to see whether it was fully cooked. He burned his finger, and put it in his mouth. But when Fafnir’s heart’s-blood came on his tongue, he understood the speech of birds. He heard nut-hatches chattering in the thickets. A nut hatch said:

“There sits Sigurth, sprinkled with blood,
And Fafnir’s heart with fire he cooks;
Wise were the breaker of rings, I ween,
To eat the life-muscles all so bright.”

A second spake:
“There Regin lies, and plans he lays
The youth to betray who trusts him well;
Lying words with wiles will he speak,
Till his brother the maker of mischief avenges.”

A third spake:
“Less by a head let the chatterer hoary
Go from here to hell;
Then all of the wealth he alone can wield,
The gold that Fafnir guarded.”

A fourth spake:
“Wise would he seem if so he would heed
The counsel good we sisters give;
Thought he would give, and the ravens gladden,
There is ever a wolf where his ears I spy.”

A fifth spake:
“Less wise must be the tree of battle
Than to me would seem the leader of men,
If forth he lets one brother fare,
When he of the other the slayer is.”

A sixth spake:
“Most foolish he seems if he shall spare
His foe, the bane of the folk,
There Regin lies, who hath wronged him so,
Yet falsehood knows he not.”

A seventh spake:
“Let the head from the frost-cold giant be hewed,
And let him of rings be robbed;
Then all the wealth which Fafnir’s was
Shall belong to thee alone.”

Sigurth spake:
“Not so rich a fate shall Regin have
As the tale of my death to tell;
For soon the brothers both shall die,
And hence to hell shall go.”

Sigurth hewed off Regin’s head, and then he ate Fafnir’s heart, and drank the blood of both Regin and Fafnir. Then Sigurth heard what the nut-hatch said:

“Bind, Sigurth, the golden rings together,
Not kingly is it aught to fear;
I know a maid, there is none so fair,
Rich in gold, if thou mightest get her.

“Green the paths that to Gjuki lead,
And his fate the way to the wanderer shows;
The doughty king a daughter has,
That thou as a bride mayst, Sigurth, buy.”

Another spake:
“A hall stands high on Hindarfjoll,
All with flame is it ringed without;
Warriors wise did make it once
Out of the flaming light of the flood.

“On the mountain sleeps a battle-maid,
And about her plays the bane of the wood;
Ygg with the thorn hath smitten her thus,
For she felled the fighter he fain would save.

“There mayst thou behold the maiden helmed,
Who forth on Vingskornir rode from the fight;
The victory-bringer her sleep shall break not,
Thou heroes’ son, so the Norns have set.”

Sigurth rode along Fafnir’s trail to his lair, and found it open. The gate-posts were of iron, and the gates; of iron, too, were all the beams in the house, which was dug down into the earth. There Sigurth found a mighty store of gold, and he filled two chests full thereof; he took the fear-helm and a golden mail-coat and the sword Hrotti, and many other precious things, and loaded Grani with them, but the horse would not go forward until Sigurth mounted on his back.[33]