Old Norse Proverbs and Sayings

Posted by Ms Elly on

Old Norse Proverbs and Sayings

Old Norse Proverbs and Sayings we've heard passed down from generation to generation often presents a vivid account of Norse myth as well as life lessons. In the meantime, they are even more than proverbs. They are a timeless treasure of civilization. (Also see: 25 Best Viking Quotes that Will Inspire You)

Norse proverbs in this blog post are from the Hávamál or the Sayings of the High One (Odin). Hávamál is a part of Poetic Edda which is one of the main sources of Norse mythology for us these days. The original version of Hávamál is in the form of wisdom poetry. The practical advice and shared lessons about life that never go out of date make this Hávamál a treasure in Norse literature. Old Norse proverbs are bold and in modern Icelandic orthography.

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

Your own farm is much better even if it is small. Everyone is someone at home (A man is a master when at home). Although he just has a pair of goats and a miserable hut, it is better than begging. 

2. Ósnjallr maðr
hyggsk munu ey lifa,
ef hann við víg varask;
en elli gefr
hánum engi frið,
þótt hánum geirar gefi. (16)

The fool thinks he will live forever as long as he stays away from fighting. But Old Age will come and give him no truce even if his spears do. 

3. Deyr fé,
deyja frændr,
deyr sjalfr it sama,
ek veit einn,
at aldrei deyr:
dómr um dauðan hvern. (77)

Animal dies. Men die. Oneself must die also. What remains afterwards is the reputation of the dead man.  

4. Hvars þú böl kannt,
kveð þú þér bölvi at
ok gef-at þínum fjándum frið. (127)

Whenever you know that's evil, speak out. And give your enemies no truce at all!

5. Vin sínum
skal maðr vinr vera
ok gjalda gjöf við gjöf
hlátr við hlátri
skyli hölðar taka
en lausung við lygi (42)

A man should be friend with a man. They give gifts and receive gifts. Men should use mockery to pay for mockery and deception in return for a lie. 

6. Meðalsnotr
skyli manna hverr
æva til snotr sé
þeim er fyrða
fegrst at lifa
er vel mart vitut (54)

A man should only be moderately wise. He should not be too wise. He who is too wise will not lead a pleasant life. He who leads a pleasant life doesn't know many a great thing. 

7. Ár skal rísa
sá er á yrkendr fá
ok ganga síns verka á vit
mart um dvelr
þann er um morgin sefr 
hálfr er auðr und hvötum (59)

The one who rises early meet his workers and come see his work. The one who sleeps the whole morning will delay everything. Wealth is in the hand of active guys. 

Though the verses came from very very very ancient accounts, they tap into deeper about the life experience that we can find ourselves in the same situations. Such uplifting and inspiring proverbs unify the people from other regions. What we have in common is the desire for learning the Edda. Above are just one of my objective favorite Norse verses from Hávamál.

Don't hesitate to find out more about Hávamál and choose your best verse to study from it. Read a few today. 

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