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OE32: Guðrúnarhvǫt
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OE32: Guðrúnarhvǫt
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1. Preface
2. Bibliography
3. Credits


Guðrúnarhvǫt is the thirty-second part of the Older Edda (OE) or Poetic Edda.


INTRODUCTORY NOTE by Henry Adams Bellows


The two concluding poems in the Codex Regius, the Guthrunarhvot (Guthrun's Inciting) and the Hamthesmol (The Ballad of Hamther), belong to a narrative cycle connected with those of Sigurth, the Burgundians, and Atli (cf. Gripisspo, introductory note) by only the slenderest of threads. Of the three early historical kings who gradually assumed a dominant place in Germanic legend, Ermanarich, king of the East Goths in the middle of the fourth century, was actually the least important, even though Jordanes, the sixth century author of De Rebus Getecis, compared him to Alexander the Great. Memories of his cruelty and of his tragic death, however, persisted along with the real glories of Theoderich, a century and a half later, and of the conquests of Attila, whose lifetime approximately bridged the gap between Ermanarich's death and Theoderich's birth.


Chief among the popular tales of Ermanarich's cruelty was one concerning the death of a certain Sunilda or Sanielh, whom, according to Jordanes, he caused to be torn asunder by wild horses because of her husband's treachery. Her brothers, Sarus and Ammius, seeking to avenge her, wounded but failed to kill Ermanarich. In this story is the root of the two Norse poems included in the Codex Regius. Sunilda easily became the wife as well as the victim of the tyrant, and, by the process of legend-blending so frequently observed, the story was connected with the more famous one of the Nibelungs by making her the daughter of Sigurth and Guthrun. To account for her brothers, a third husband had to be found for Guthrun; the Sarus and Ammius of Jordanes are obviously the Sorli and Hamther, sons of Guthrun and Jonak, of the Norse poems. The blending of the Sigurth and Ermanarich legends probably, though not certainly, took place before the story reached the North, in other words before the end of the eighth century.


Regarding the exact status of the Guthrunarhvot and the Hamthesmol there has been a great deal of discussion. That they are closely related is obvious; indeed the first parts of the two poems are nearly identical in content and occasionally so in actual diction. The annotator, in his concluding prose note, refers to the second poem as the "old" ballad of Hamther, wherefore it has been assumed by some critics that the composer of the Guthrunarhvot used the Hamthesmol, approximately as it now stands, as the source of part of his material. The extant Hamthesmol, however, is almost certainly a patchwork; part of it is in Fornyrthislag (cf. Introduction), including most of the stanzas paralleled in the Guthrunarhvot, and likewise the stanza followed directly by the reference to the „old“ ballad, while the rest is in Malahattr. The most reasonable theory, therefore, is that there existed an old ballad of Hamther, all in Fornyrthislag, from which the composer of the Guthrunarhvot borrowed a few stanzas as the introduction for his poem, and which the composer of the extant, or „new,“ Hamthesmol likewise used, though far more clumsily.


The title „Guthrunarhvot,“ which appears in the Codex Regius, really applies only to stanzas 1-8, all presumably borrowed from the „old“ ballad of Hamther. The rest of the poem is simply another Guthrun lament, following the tradition exemplified by the first and second Guthrun lays; it is possible, indeed, that it is made up of fragments of two separate laments, one (stanzas 9-18) involving the story of Svanhild's death, and the other (stanzas 19-21) coming from an otherwise lost version of the story in which Guthrun closely follows Sigurth and Brynhild in death. In any event the present title is really a misnomer; the poet, who presumably was an eleventh century Icelander, used the episode of Guthrun's inciting her sons to vengeance for the slaying of Svanhild simply as an introduction to his main subject, the last lament of the unhappy queen.


The text of the poem in Regius is by no means in good shape, and editorial emendations have been many and varied, particularly in interchanging lines between the Guthrunarhvot and the Hamthesmol. The Volsungasaga paraphrases the poem with such fidelity as to prove that it lay before the compilers of the saga approximately in its present form.

Abbreviations for the whole library.



Eddukvæði II, Hetjukvæði, Jónas Kristjánsson og Vésteinn Ólason gáfu út, p. 402-406, Íslenzk fornrit, Reykjavík 2014.


Gudruns egging (Goþrúnarkvǫt), tr. G.A Gjessing, Kristiania 1899.


GUTHRUNARHVOT, Guthrun's Inciting, tr. Henry Adams Bellows, in the Poetic Edda, the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1936.


Input by Angela Kowalczyk, August 16th, 2016.

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