Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Thoughts From The Havamal

When most people think of the ancient Scandinavians, the first thing to come to mind is the viking. It's an understandable thought, since those sea-faring ravagers left quite a mark on history but, in doing so, it can be easy to forget what other marks they left as well. They were obviously advanced sailors and explorers - which required knowledge of navigation, math, and astronomy far beyond what was common in their time - but they were also quite adept at farming, ranching, and the building crafts. Contrary to some modern misconceptions, the entire Scandinavian people did not periodically board boats and go off plundering. Those who traveled left from and returned to a well organized and often forward thinking civilization.

These were a people who valued knowledge and wisdom. Their chief god was a god of, among other things, wisdom, who made great sacrifices in order to learn. One of the greatest surviving examples of this is The Havamal, an epic poem attributed to Odin, himself, which probably collects multiple poems from earlier sources and includes lessons on philosophy, living, farming, and the expected battle and survival. Below are some excerpts I have pulled from The Havamal for your consideration.

A kind word need not cost much
The price of praise can be cheap

The man who stands at a strange threshold
Should be cautious before he cross it

Rash is he who at unknown doors
Relies on his good luck

Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells
Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloth's and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale

Who travels widely needs his wits about him,
The stupid should stay at home

Of his knowledge a man should never boast,
Rather be sparing of speech

A guest should be courteous
When he comes to the table

Better gear than good sense
A traveller cannot carry

Less good than belief would have it
Is mead for the sons of men

It befits a man to be merry and glad
Until the day of his death

The coward believes he will live forever
If he holds back in the battle,
But in old age he shall have no peace
Though spears have spared his limbs

Drink your mead, but in moderation,
Talk sense or be silent:
No man is called discourteous who goes
To bed at an early hour

An ill tempered, unhappy man
Ridicules all he hears

Foolish is he who frets at night,
And lies awake to worry
A weary man when morning comes,
He finds all as bad as before

The fool who fancies he is full of wisdom
While he sits by his hearth at home.
Quickly finds when questioned by others.
That he knows nothing at all

To ask well, to answer rightly,
Are the marks of a wise man

He starts to stink who outstays his welcome
In a hall that is not his own

To a false friend the footpath winds
Though his house be on the highway.
To a sure friend there is a short cut,
Though he live a long way off

The generous and bold have the best lives,
Are seldom beset by cares,
But the base man sees bogies everywhere
And the miser pines for presents

No man is able to know his future,
So let him sleep in peace

It is safe to tell a secret to one,
Risky to tell it to two,
To tell it to three is thoughtless folly,
Everyone else will know

Moderate at council should a man be,
Not brutal and over bearing

These things are thought the best:
Fire, the sight of the sun,
Good health with the gift to keep it,
And a life that avoids vice

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well

Wealth may vanish in the wink of an eye,
Gold is the falsest of friends

If you know a friend you can fully trust,
Go often to his house
Grass and brambles grow quickly
Upon the untrodden track

Cherish those near you, never be
The first to break with a friend

Never share in the shamefully gotten,
But allow yourself what is lawful

Mock not the traveller met On the road,
Nor maliciously laugh at the guest

The best man is marred by faults,
The worst is not without worth

Hail to the speaker,
Hail to the knower,
Joy to him who has understood,
Delight to those who have listened

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