The Great Myths #52: Ríg Gives Advice (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here

Here is Andy Orchard’s translation of the Rígsthula, where the culture hero Ríg wanders the earth & sorts everybody out:


People say that in the ancient tales one of the Æsir, who was called Heimdall, went in his travels along a certain sea-shore; he came to a farmstead and called himself Ríg. About that story this poem was made:

In ancient times, they said, there wandered on green paths
a mighty and ancient and much-crafty god,
vigorous and vibrant, Ríg, striding along.

Next thing, he wandered in the middle of the path;
he came to a building, with its door on the latch,
and stepped right in: there was a fire on the floor;
a couple sat there, grey-haired at the hearth,
Great-grandpa and Great-grandma, with her old head-dress.

Ríg was able to give them advice;
next thing, he sat in the middle of the bench,
and on either side the household couple.

Then Great-grandma took a rough loaf,
thick and heavy, packed with grain;
next thing, she brought it in the middle of the platter,
broth was in the bowl, that she set on the table,
[boiled calf-meat, the best of dainties;]
he got up from there and got ready for bed.

Ríg was able to give them advice;
next thing, he laid in the middle of the bed,
and on either side the household couple.

He was there for three nights together:
next thing, he wandered in the middle of the path;
next thing, nine months passed.

Great-grandma had a child; they sprinkled it with water,
the swarthy boy they called Slave.

He began growing and gathering strength;
on his hands the skin was wrinkled,
knuckles gnarled, [crooked nails,]
fingers fat, face repulsive,
back bowed, heels long.

Next thing, he began to try his strength,
binding bast, making bundles:
he brought home brushwood all day long.

There came to the courtyard a gangly girl;
there was mud on her soles, sun-burnt arms,
her nose was turned down, her name was Wench.

In the middle of the bench, next thing, she sat,
next to her sat the son of the house;
they talked and told secrets, made up a bed,
Slave and Wench, through well-packed days.

They had children, lived and loved;
I think their names were Big-mouth and Byre-boy,
Stomp and Stick-boy, Shagger and Stink,
Stumpy and Fatso, Backward and Grizzled,
Bent-back and Brawny; they set up farms,
shoveled shit on the fields, worked with pigs,
guarded goats and dug the turf.

Their daughters were Dumpy and Frumpy,
Swollen-calves and Crooked-nose,
Screamer and Serving-girl, Chatterbox,
Tatty-coat and Crane-legs;
from them have come the generations of slaves.

Ríg then wandered by straight paths;
he came to a house, with its door ajar,
and stepped right in: there was a fire on the floor;
a couple sat there, and kept on working.

The man there was carving wood for a loom-beam;
his beard was trimmed, his fringe across his forehead,
his shirt close-fitting; a box was on the floor.

There sat the woman, twirling her spindle,
spreading her arms, ready to make cloth.
On her head a head-dress, a smock over her bosom,
around her neck a kerchief, dwarf-pins on each shoulder:
Grandpa and Grandma owned that house.

Ríg was able to give them advice;
[next thing, he sat in the middle of the bench,
and on either side the household couple.]

[Grandma offered well-ground bread,
fine and filling, fairly spread;
next thing, she put in the middle of the platter,
proper portions of soup and meat;
all was ample, aptly tasty,
he got up from there and got ready for bed.]

[Ríg was able to give them advice;]
he got up from the table and got ready for bed.
Next thing, he lay in the middle of the bed,
and on either side the household couple.

He was there for three nights together:
[next thing, he wandered in the middle of the path;]
next thing, nine months passed.

Grandma had a child; they sprinkled it with water,
called him Carl; the woman wrapped him in linen
red-haired and ruddy, with roaming eyes.

He began growing and gathering strength:
began taming oxen, making a plough-share,
building houses, assembling barns,
making carts and driving the plough.

Then they drove home a girl with dangling keys
and a goat-skin long-coat, and gave her to Carl;
she was called Daughter-in-law: she settled under the veil,
the couple lived together and exchanged rings,
spread the coverlets and made a home.

They had children, lived and loved;
one was called Fellow, another Chap;
there was Bloke, Thegn and Smith,
Stout, Farmer, Neat-beard,
Owner and Householder, Short-beard and Guy.

But there were called by different names:
Lass, Bride, Damsel, Dame, Miss,
Lady, Madam and Wife, Shy-girl, Lively;
from them have come the generations of carls.

Ríg then wandered along straight paths;
he came to a hall, with its doors facing south,
the door was half-open, with a ring on the latch.

He stepped in at that: the floor was spread with straw;
a couple were sitting, gazing softly at each other,
Father and Mother, with fingers entwined.

The householder sat, twisting a bow-string,
bending an elm-bow, making arrow-shafts;
but the lady of the house was looking at her arms,
stroking the linen, smoothing the sleeves.

She arranged her head-dress; there was a coin-brooch on her bosom,
a trailing dress, and blue-dyed tunic;
she had a brighter brow and lighter breast,
a whiter neck than fresh-fallen snow.

Ríg was able to give them advice;
next thing, he sat in the middle of the bench,
and on either side the household couple.

Then Mother took a decorated cloth,
white and flaxen, covered the table;
then she took some dainty loaves,
white and wheaten, and covered the cloth.

She set out full platters,
mounted with silver, set them on the table,
streaky bacon, pork and roast fowl;
there was wine in a tankard and mounted goblets;
they drank and chatted, and the day was done.

Ríg was able to give them advice;
then Ríg rose, and got ready for bed;
he was there for three nights together:
next thing, he wandered in the middle of the path;
next thing, nine months passed.

Mother had a boy; she wrapped him in silk,
sprinkled him with water, had him named Earl;
blond was his hair, bright his cheeks,
fierce were his eyes like a little snake’s.

Then there grew up Earl by the benches,
began brandishing shields, fitting bow-strings,
bending elm-bows, making arrow-shafts,
casting javelins, shaking spears,
riding horses, hunting hounds,
swinging swords, practicing swimming.

There came from the thicket Ríg wandering;
Ríg wandering taught him runes,
gave him his own name, said he had a son;
told him to obtain ancestral property,
ancestral property, ancient estates.

He rode from there next thing, through Mirkwood,
frost-covered fells, till he came to a hall;
he began to shake his spear-shaft, he brandished his shield,
he galloped his horse, he drew his blade;
he began to rouse war, began to redden the plain,
began to fell the slaughtered, won himself lands.

Then he alone ruled eighteen estates;
he began to hand out wealth, offer to everyone
treasures and riches, slim-flanked steeds;
he showered circlets, cut apart arm-rings.

Messengers drove over dripping paths,
came to the hall where Leader lived;
[they met] a maid with slim fingers,
white-skinned and wise: her name was Brisk.

They asked for her hand and then drove home,
married her to Earl: she went under the veil;
they lived together and loved each other,
they increased their family and enjoyed their lives.

Born was the eldest and Bairn the second,
Child and Well-born, Heir, Offspring,
Kindred and Kinsman, Son and Boy,
– they learnt to play, swimming and board games –
one was called Breed, Kin the youngest.

Then there grew up the boys born to Earl,
tamed horses, curved shields,
shaved shafts, shook ash-spears.

But Kin knew about runes,
life-runes and living-runes;
moreover he knew how to protect men
by blunting blades and calming waters.

He learned bird-song, how to quench fires,
soothe seas, calm sorrows;
[he had] the strength and vigor of eight men.

He contended in runes with Earl Ríg,
he baited him with cunning and knew better than he;
then he won and gained the right
to be called Ríg and know about runes.

Young King rode through brush and woodland,
let fly bolts, and silenced birds.

Then said a crow – it sat alone on a twig –
“Why must you, young Kin, silence the birds?
You might rather ride on horses,
[draw your blade] and destroy an army.

“Dan and Danp own costly halls,
finer property than you have;
they know well how to make ships run,
make a blade felt, make a wound run red.”

– tr. Andy Orchard in The Elder Edda: A Book of Viking Lore

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