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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál, 44-47
A few more verses in my ongoing translation of the Viking poem of gnomic wisdom --

 

44.
Veiztu, ef þú vin átt,
þann er þú vel trúir,
ok vill þú af hánum gótt geta,
geði skaltu við þann blanda
ok gjöfum skipta,
fara at finna oft.
You must know, if you would wish to have a friend
Who would be true to you
And from whom you would have good in exchange,
Share your thoughts with him,
And exchange gifts,
Fare often to find him.
 

The verses recognise the exchange that is necessary to feeding a good friendship. While the focus on gifts may seem a bit mercenary to modern readers, we have to take into consideration just how much gift giving has changed: we take it lightly because it is very easy to pick up something from a shop. In the Middle Ages, where survival was much more precarious, any surplus was precious. Giving it away showed great favour. Of course we understand the need to find a like mind with whom we can share our truths, hopes and fears. By such means do we knit relationships that last.
 
45.
Ef þú átt annan,
þanns þú illa trúir,
vildu af hánum þó gótt geta,
fagrt skaltu við þann mæla
en flátt hyggja
ok gjalda lausung við lygi.
If you have such another one --
He you trust little --
Yet you wish to get goodwill from him, too,
Fair shall you be in speech with him
But cunning in thought
And repay his deceit with lies.
 

As the great military strategist Sun Tzu observed, it's best to keep friends close -- and enemies closer. The High One agrees that it's best not to tip your hand to those who wish you ill, but continue to speak pleasantly to them as long as possible in the hopes that you might glean something useful from their conversation or thoughts. Though they may also conceal their intentions, often enmity betrays itself in non-verbal ways, too.
 
 
46.
Það er enn of þann
er þú illa trúir
ok þér er grunr at hans geði,
hlæja skaltu við þeim
ok um hug mæla;
glík skulu gjöld gjöfum.
Thus ever further with the one of whom
He whom you trust ill
And about whom you have suspicious mind,
You should laugh with him
And speak around your thoughts;
For with like coin should you repay a gift.
 

More on dealing with those you do not trust. Working environments may offer the best modern analogue to the situation. We all have co-workers with whom we don't trust -- and who may return the favour. The verses suggest that is the wisest course -- repaying false coin with false coin -- but it rubs against our modern notions of directness and honesty. For most of us, that honesty has only social costs. Yet how many people find it easier to be polite to someone they dislike intensely than to plainly state their antipathy? We're not always as honest as we like to think we are.
 
47.
Ungr var ek forðum,
fór ek einn saman,
þá varð ek villr vega;
auðigr þóttumk,
er ek annan fann,
maðr er manns gaman.
Young was I once,
I traveled on my own,
When I found myself astray;
Rich I thought myself
When I found another soul --
A human is human pleasure.
 

While the poet uses the word 'maðr' it's clearly used in the general sense of a person, not gendered specifically. While many of us choose to cherish solitude, imagine a world like the vikings where being alone put your survival at risk. There is not simply the joy of companionship here, but the recognition of the interdependence of community. Consider too the uncertainty of travel without modern maps -- let alone the specifics of satellite navigation. To run across another human when you have traveled on your own for a considerable space of time -- even if you're young and hearty -- must surely be a welcome sight.

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    More, more, more! And now I want you to record them all.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Oh, now there's an idea. With kantele music... Hmmmm....

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál, 35-39

35.
Ganga skal,
skal-a gestr vera
ey í einum stað;
ljúfr verðr leiðr,
ef lengi sitr
annars fletjum á.

Go shall the guest
and not stay long in one place;
the loved one becomes loathed
if he sits too long

on another's bench.

The important thing about hospitality -- that measure of a man or a woman and their home -- is the assumption that such largesse will not be taxed or taken for granted. Long visits were a big part of the wealthy in Iceland, but they had to be planned for and stocks set by. Unexpected guests were given good welcome, but part of the unspoken agreement is that a visitor would know when to move on.

36.
Bú er betra,
þótt lítit sé,
halr er heima hverr;
þótt tvær geitr eigi
ok taugreftan sal,
þat er þó betra en bæn.

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  • Wendall Mountain Runner
    Wendall Mountain Runner says #
    Happy your more recent post led me read your backlog.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    I'm delighted to hear it!
  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Beautifully rendered. I believe that it's hospitality that is the common denominator in world religion and world culture.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
First thoughts on VIKINGS

This past Sunday, the History Channel debuted its first scripted drama series, VIKINGS. (If you missed it, or if, like me, you don't actually have a television, iTunes had the first episode available for free, at least at the time of writing.) 

VIKINGS follows the exploits of a de-mythologized Ragnar Lodbrok, a hero of Viking myths and sagas. Going by the first episode, the show hardly appears to be a straight adaptation of Ragnar's Saga; little about the show's hero remains the same as either the sagas or, as best as I can tell, the best guesses at the historical life of Ragnar. (I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's a strange choice - nobody in America except serious Viking buffs will even recognize the name, and the people who recognize it will be confused as to why the character doesn't resemble the Ragnar of the sagas. Who knows.)

In the first episode, "Rites of Passage," Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and his twelve-year-old son set out to their tribe's Thing, where, after a few matters of law and punishment are settled, the tribe's leader, Jarl Haraldson (Gabriel Byrne) will announce their destination for the summer's raids. Haraldson announces they will strike east, into Russia, as they have for several years; unfortunately, while it is known territory, it's also a poor place to make a profit, as the Slavs aren't any richer than the Scandinavians. Ragnar, with the help of a few new technologies, believes they should strike west, instead, but Haraldson won't have any of it. In secret, Ragnar hires a half-crazed shipwright, Floki, to build him a vessel so he and a crew can go exploring, putting him into direct conflict with Haraldson, who doesn't want one of his subjects making him look weak by defying his orders.

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  • Janneke Brouwers
    Janneke Brouwers says #
    I watched a terrible film called Walhalla Rising, and both the VIking homelands and the America's were shot in Scotland. Seeing bl
  • Eric O. Scott
    Eric O. Scott says #
    Really, you thought Valhalla Rising was terrible? I'll grant you that it was super-artsy to the point of incomprehensibility, but
  • Trine
    Trine says #
    This sounds really interesting, I'll have to see if the episode is also available in Europe. Thanks for the introduction! As for

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_Unquiet-Dreams-by-Kathryn-Laity---200_20121128-201732_1.jpgHávamál

5.
Vits er þörf,
þeim er víða ratar;
dælt er heima hvat;
at augabragði verðr,
sá er ekki kann
ok með snotrum sitr.

6.
At hyggjandi sinni
skylit maðr hræsinn vera,
heldr gætinn at geði;
þá er horskr ok þögull
kemr heimisgarða til,
sjaldan verðr víti vörum,
því at óbrigðra vin
fær maðr aldregi
en mannvit mikit.

7.
Inn vari gestr,
er til verðar kemr,
þunnu hljóði þegir,
eyrum hlýðir,
en augum skoðar;
svá nýsisk fróðra hverr fyrir.

8.
Hinn er sæll,
er sér of getr
lof ok líknstafi;
ódælla er við þat,
er maðr eiga skal
annars brjóstum í.

9.
Sá er sæll,
er sjalfr of á
lof ok vit, meðan lifir;
því at ill ráð
hefr maðr oft þegit
annars brjóstum ór.

 

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    Thanks for this, my friend. Beautiful, lyrical. Will it become a book, do you think? As I'm reading it, it feels like the I Chin
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    Thank you, my friend. I suspect it will in some form. Because you know I need one more book project!
  • Anita White
    Anita White says #
    Very beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Review: NORTHLANDERS, v. 1

 

Comics are my first love. I taught myself to read with Spiderman; my first after-school job primarily financed my $100 a month comics habit. And even today, comics may be my favorite medium, even if I have left the month-to-month antics of superheroes behind me. (Not for outgrowing superheroes, mind you, but because I was fed up with the companies behind them. I'm sure I'll end up ranting about this at some point.)

One of the series I have been reading through recently is NORTHLANDERS, published by the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, written by Brian Wood, who is more famous for his book DMZ. NORTHLANDERS is an anthology series -- each volume, coincidentally about as long as a trade paperback, is a self-contained story. (The artist also changes with each volume.) The only thing the stories share in common is that they are set in the Viking Age, and the main characters are, as the title implies, people from the Northland. Unusually for a "Viking" story, however, that does not always mean Norsemen or Icelanders; Wood takes the entirety of the Viking world for his setting, and only a few stories have anything to do with Scandinavia proper.

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  • Lauren
    Lauren says #
    You've really piqued my interest. I'm not big on gore, but I'm a sucker for evocative artwork and compelling storylines. Excellent

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