APT logo

Association of Polytheist Traditions

Hávamál: The Guest's Chapter

Hávamál means 'Sayings of the High One'-- the god Oðin. This poem, written in Old Icelandic, is found in a medieval manuscript known as the Codex Regius. Scholars believe it was composed around 700-800 CE.

The first 77 verses of the Hávamál are known as the Gestaþáttur, or Guest's Chapter. Each of the verses in this section offers words of wisdom for humankind. Topics covered include how to be a good host and a good guest, the effects of alcohol, and how to win friends and influence people. Much of the advice rings as true today as it did over a thousand years ago.

The version below is from The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sifusson translated from the original Old Norse text into English by Benjamin Thorpe and published by the Norroega Society, London, 1906. For an easier-to-read modern translation, see The Poetic Edda translated with an introduction and notes by Carolyne Larrington, Oxford University Press, 1996.

The Gestaþáttur verses of Hávamál

  1. All door-ways, before going forward, should be looked to; for difficult it is to know where foes may sit within a dwelling.
  2. Givers, hail! A guest is come in; where shall he sit? In much haste is he, who on the ways has to try his luck.
  3. Fire is needful to him who is come in, and whose knees are frozen; food and raiment a man requires, wheo'er the fell has travelled.
  4. Water to him is needful who for refection comes, a towel and hospitable invitation, a good reception; if he can get it, discourse and answer.
  5. Wit is needful to him who travels far: at home all is easy. A laughing-stock is he who nothing knows, and with the instructed sits.
  6. Of his understanding no one should be proud, but rather in conduct cautious. When the prudent and taciturn come to a dwelling, harm seldom befalls the cautious; for a firmer friend no man ever gets than great sagacity.
  7. A wary guest, who to refection comes, keeps a cautious silence, with his ears listens, and with his eyes observes: so explores every prudent man.
  8. He is happy, who for himself obtains fame and kind words: less sure is that which a man must have in another's breast.
  9. He is happy, who in himself posesses fame and wit while living; for bad councils have oft been received from another's breast.
  10. A better burthen no man bears on the way than much good sense; that is thought better than riches in a strange place; such is the recourse of the indigent.
  11. A worse provision on the way he cannot carry. than too much beer-bibbing; so good is not, as it is said, beer for the sons of men.
  12. A worse provision no man can take from table than too much beer-bibbing: for the more he drinks the less control he has of his own mind
  13. Oblivion's heron 'tis called that over potations hovers; he steals the minds of men. With this bird's pinions I was fettered in Gunnlods dwelling.
  14. Drunk I was, I was over-drunk, at that cunning Fialar's. It's the best drunkenness, when every one after it regains his reason.
  15. Taciturn and prudent, and in war daring, should a king's children be; joyous and liberal every one should be until his hour of death.
  16. A cowardly man thinks, he will ever live, if warfare he avoids; but old age will give him no peace, though spears may spare him.
  17. A fool gapes when to house he comes, to himself mutters or is silent; but all at once, if he gets drink, then is the man's mind displayed.
  18. He alone knows who wanders wide, and has much experience by what disposition each man is ruled, who common sense possesses.
  19. Let a man hold the cup, yet of the mead drink moderately, speak sensibly or be silent. As of a fault no man wil1 admonish thee if thou goest betimes to sleep.
  20. A greedy man, if he be not moderate, eats to his mortal sorrow. Oftentimes his belly draws laughter on a silly man. Who among the prudent comes.
  21. Cattle know when to go home, and then from cease; but a foolish man never knows his stomach's measure.
  22. A miserable man, and ill-conditioned, sneers at every thing: one thing he knows not, which he ought to know, he is not free from faults.
  23. A foolish man is all night awake, pondering over everything; he then grows tired; and when morning comes, all is lament as before.
  24. A foolish man thinks all who on him smile to be his friends; he feels it not, although they speak ill of him, when he sits among the clever.
  25. A foolish man thinks all who speak him fair to be his friends; but he will find, if into court he comes, that he has few advocates.
  26. A foolish man thinks he knows everything if placed in an unexpected difficulty; but he knows not what to answer, if to the test he is put.
  27. A foolish man, who among people comes, had best be silent; for no one knows that he knows nothing, unless he talks too much. He who previously knew nothing will still know nothing, talk he ever so much.
  28. He thinks himself wise, who can ask questions and converse also; conceal his ignorance no one can, because it circulates among men.
  29. He utters too many futile words who is never silent; a garrulous tongue, if it be not checked, sings often to its own harm.
  30. For a gazing-stock no man shall have another, although he come a stranger to his house. Many a one thinks himself wise, if he is not questioned and can sit in a dry habit.
  31. Clever thinks the guest who jeers a guest, if he takes to flight. Knows it not certainly he who prates at meat, whether he babbles among foes.
  32. Many men are mutually well-disposed, yet at table will torment each other. That strife will ever be; guest will guest irritate.
  33. Early meals a man should often take, unless to a friend's house he goes; else he will sit and mope, will seem half-famished, and can of few things inquire.
  34. Long is and indirect the way to a bad friend's, though by the road he dwell; but to a good friend's the paths lie direct, though he be far away.
  35. A guest should depart, not always stay in one place. The welcome becomes unwelcome, if he too long continues in another's house.
  36. One's own house is best, small though it be; at home is every one his own master. Though he but two goats possess, and a straw-thatched cot, even that is better than begging.
  37. One's own house is best, small though it be, at home is every one his own master. Bleeding at heart is he, who has to ask for food at every meal-tide.
  38. Leaving in the field his arms, let no man go a foot's length forward; for it is hard to know when on the way a man may need his weapon.
  39. I have never found a man so bountiful, or so hospitable that he refused a present; or of his property so liberal that he scorned a recompense.
  40. Of the property which he has gained no man should suffer need; for the hated oft is spared what for the dear was destined. Much goes worse than is expected.
  41. With arms and vestments friends should each other gladden, those which are in themselves most sightly. Givers and requiters are longest friends, if all [else] goes well.
  42. To his friend a man should be a friend, and gifts with gifts requite. Laughter with laughter men should receive, but leasing with lying.
  43. To his friend a man should be a friend; to him and to his friend; but of his foe no man shall the friend's friend be.
  44. Know, if thou hast a friend whom thou fully trustest, and from whom thou woulds't derive, thou shouldst blend thy mind with his and gifts exchange, and often go to see him.
  45. If thou hast another, whom thou little trustest, yet wouldst good from him derive, thou shouldst speak him fair but think craftily, and leasing pay with lying.
  46. But of him yet further, whom thou little trustest, and thou suspectest his affection; before him thou shouldst laugh, and contrary to thy thoughts speak: requital should the gift resemble.
  47. I was once young, I was journeying alone, and lost my way; rich I thought myself, when I met another, Man is the joy of man.
  48. Liberal and brave men live best, they seldom cherish sorrow; but a base-minded man dreads everything; the niggardly is uneasy even at gifts.
  49. My garments in a field I gave away to two wooden men: heroes they seemed to be, when they got cloaks: exposed to insult is a naked man.
  50. A tree withers that on a hill-top stands; protects it neither bark nor leaves: such is the man whom no one favours: why should he live long?
  51. Hotter than fire love for five days burns between false friends; but is quenched when the sixth day comes, and friendship is all impaired.
  52. Something great is not [always] to be given, praise is often for a trifle bought. With half a loaf and a tilted vessel I got myself a comrade.
  53. Little are the sand-grains, little the wits, little the minds of [some] men; for all men are not wise alike; men are everywhere by halves.
  54. Moderately wise should each one be, but never over-wise: of those men the lives are fairest, who know much well.
  55. Moderately wise should each one be, but never over-wise; for a wise man's heart is seldom glad, if he is all-wise who owns it.
  56. Moderately wise should each one be, but never over-wise. His destiny let know no man beforehand; His mind will be freest from care.
  57. Brand burns from brand until it is burnt out; fire is from fire quickened. Man to man becomes known, by speech, but a fool by his bashful silence.
  58. He should early rise, who another's property or life desires to have. Seldom a sluggish wolf gets prey, or a sleeping man victory.
  59. Early should rise he who has few workers, and work to see to; greatly is he retarded who sleeps morn away. Wealth half depends on energy.
  60. Of dry planks and roof-shingles a man knows the measure; of the fire-wood that may suffice, both measure and time.
  61. Washed and refected let a man ride to the Thing, although his garments be not too good; of his shoes and breeches let no one be ashamed, nor of his horse, although he have not a good one.
  62. Inquire and impart should every man of sense, who will be accounted sage. Let one only know, a second may not; if three, all the world knows.
  63. Gasps and gapes, when to the sea he comes, the eagle over old ocean; so is a man, who among many comes, and has few advocates.
  64. His power should every sagacious man use with discretion; for he will find, when among the bold he comes, that no one alone is doughtiest.
  65. Circumspect and reserved every man should be, and wary to trusting friends. Of the words that a man says to another he often pays the penalty.
  66. Much too early I came to many places, but too late to others: the beer was drunk, or not ready: the disliked seldom hits the moment.
  67. Here and there I should have been invited, if I a meal had needed; or two hams had hung, at that true friend's, where of one I had eaten.
  68. Fire is best among the sons of men, and the sight of the sun, if his health a man can have, with a life free from vice.
  69. No man lacks everything, although his health be bad: one in his sons is happy, one in his kin, one in abundant wealth, one in his good works.
  70. It is better to live, even to live miserably; a living man can always get a cow. I saw fire consume the rich man's property, and death stood without his door.
  71. The halt can ride on horseback, the one-handed drive cattle; the deaf fight and be useful: to be blind is better than to be burnt: no one gets good from a corpse.
  72. A son is better, even if born late, after his father's departure. Gravestone's seldom stand by the way-side unless raised by a kinsman to a kinsman.
  73. Two are adversaries: the tongue is the bane of the head: under every cloak I expect a hand.
  74. At night is joyful he who is sure of travelling entertainment. [A ship's yards are short.] Variable is an autumn night. Many are the weather's changes in five days, but more in a month.
  75. He [only] knows not who knows nothing, that many a one apes another. One man is rich, another poor: let him not be thought blameworthy.
  76. Cattle die, kindred die, we ourselves also die; but the fair fame never dies of him who has earned it.
  77. Cattle die, kindred die, we ourselves also die; but I know one thing that never dies, - judgement on each one dead.