Comparing Völuspás

I am finally reading Maria Kvilhaug’s 2004 dissertation The Maiden With The Mead. In her introduction, Kvilhaug says:

There are, for example, three different versions of the poem Voluspá, all with rather fundamental differences from each other.

I never really thought about that. As probably many others I took it that what is printed in our Eddas as the first poem Völuspa is the text that comes from the Codex Regius that that was found in 1643 and probably compiled in the late 12th century. Many translations and translations of translations have been made, so it is sometimes hard to say which of the modern translations are anywhere close to the original text. Kvilhaugs remark brings another problem: if there are “three different versions” are the texts that we know all based on the same source?

I set out to find something in which somebody made that comparison for me. That proved to be harder than expected. Just searching for “three versions of the Völuspá” online results in deplorably little results. After a while I got lucky and from then on searching became a little easier. So you do not have to repeat that, I here present my preliminary findings.

Besides the Codex Regius there is another manuscript that contains the Völuspá. The other manuscript is called Hauksbók or ‘Book of Haukr’. That is Haukr Erlendsson who created the manuscript in the 14th century. The manuscript is now torn in three parts. It contains texts that we know from other manuscripts.

The third source of no one less than Snorri Sturlusson (1179-1241) who quotes from the Völuspa in his Gylfagynning.

A little searching led me to the website which has a lot of information about the Völuspa linking to different manuscripts, printings and translations that can be found online. The same website has the text of both the Codex Regius version and the Hauksbók version. Unfortunately there is no page on which the texts can be easily compared.

Of course somebody did just that. On you can also find our three sources (without translation) and a page with the three versions together. Unfortunately, again without translations.

So I took the texts and translations, copied them to Excel and immediately saw that I have to rearrange quite a bit to get the same stanzas next to each other. I guess there we already have Kvilhaugs “rather fundamental differences”.

What is apparent, is that the Hauksbók misses stanzas compared to the Codes Regius. Quite fundamental stanzas too. The stanza in which Odin finds the “Völva” and starts asking question misses for example. Or what about the missing part about Balders death?

I think there is no reason for panic. Both manuscripts are heavily worn, so these passages are probably on pages that are impossible to read or simply gone missing. Yet, both manuscripts are indeed not entirely alike. There are striking similarities and differences.

You can already see the different numbering. Apparently the numbering in both sources on this website is just 1, 2, 3. So if the Hauksbók misses 10 stanzas, it would have been 1, 2, 13 compared to the Codex Regius. It is not that easy though. As you can see on the image all the way back at the top, the Codex Regius is not as nicely divided over stanzas as we are used to today. Besides numbering, there are more differences between both manuscripts. You can see similarities in the text, but also noticeable differences. has nicely given the differences in red. Sometimes these differences are minor, sometimes they are bigger.

Stanzas 11 – 13 are lists of names which start alike, but towards the end they start to differ, the Hauksbók list is longer. Many scholars and translators think these lists of names are nonsense and leave them out, but it might be interesting to have a look at them still. This is not what we are going to do today though.

In stanza 20, the three maidens (Norns) come from the sea in the Codex Regius and from the hall in the Hauksbók. That is “se” versus “sal”, so that could be a copying error.

Then comes something more ‘serious’. In the Codex Regius stanza 20 is the: “She remembers that folk-war, the first in the world, when Gullveig was studded with spears, and in the High One´s hall burnt her, thrice burnt, thrice born, often not seldom; yet she still lives.” In the Hausksbók this is only stanza 26. Hauksbók first has the stanzas about Freyja, Thor and Heimdallr while the Codex Regius first explains who the Völva is whom Odin interrogates and speaks of other episodes from Ragnarökr first, details that the Hausksbók only mentions from stanza 29.

There are also other differences. The Hauksbók repeats a sentence about Garm much more often (“Loud bays Garm before the Gnupa-cave, his bonds break and the wolf runs. Further forward I see, much can I say of Ragnarök and the gods´conflict.”). Around stanza 37 (Codex Regius) / 34 (Hauksbók) things start to run more parallel again.

But it is not just the order of the stanzas. Here we suddenly have a troll woman to add to the festivities of Ragnarökr:

What happened is that scholars started to ‘merge’ the different versions and thus created the Völuspá as we know it. That these decisions may not always have been idea is clear when we see differences such as this:

So Thor fights a wolf according to the Codex Regius, which is also a worm. These stanzas differ quite a bit in general.

Besides wear of the manuscripts, there are other omissions and differences. The biggest ‘deception’ is this:

This the famous passage in which Thor kills the Midgard-serpent and walks back nine steps before he dies. In the Codex Regius this stanza should have been between 54 and 55 and in the Hauksbók this is a passage in a heavily damaged passage.

Here we have been lucky, as Snorri retells the Ragnarökr story and describes:

Þórr berr banaorð af Miðgarðsormi, ok stígr þaðan braut níu fet; þá fellr hann dauðr til jarðar fyrir eitri því, er ormrinn blæss á hann (niv fet vm eitr ormsins U)

Or in English:

Thor shall put to death the Midgard Serpent, and shall stride away nine paces from that spot; then shall he fall dead to the earth, because of the venom which the Snake has blown at him.

To close off. Almost at the end, there is a passage which also lacks from the Codex Regius and which many translations leave out too.

After the description of the new world after Ragnarökr, which Gods return, etc., the younger text adds a “mighty one”.

The last stanza is the same in both texts again:

There comes the dark dragon flying the snake from below, from Nida-fells. Bearing on his wings  flying over the plain, Nidhögg, a corpse. Now she will sink.

There are some details that are quite eye-catching, but not immediately differences that change the text completely (only perhaps the lacking “mighty one” at the end). It could be fun to have a look at the comparisons and see what the translators of your Edda(s) have opted for.

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