Sayings from a Viking god

When the Norse god Odin offers advice, one should probably listen.

The Hávamál (Sayings of the High One) is part of the Poetic Edda, a collection of Old Norse writings that survive in a 13th-century manuscript. The various verses found in the Hávamál were collected from different sources, and some date back to hundreds of years earlier. They are presented as being words of Odin, who according to Norse mythology was the Allfather of the gods and ruler of Asgard.

In its 164 stanzas, you can find advice being given about proper ways to show hospitality and generosity, how to be wise, how to deal with women, and ethics. Here are ten of our favourite proverbs from the Hávamál.

Odin depicted in an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript “SÁM 66”, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

On Being Smart

About his intelligence no man should be boastful, rather cautious of mind; when a wise and silent man comes to a homestead blame seldom befalls the wary; for no more dependable friend can a man ever get than a store of common sense.

On Death

The cowardly man thinks he’ll live forever if he keeps away from fighting; but old age won’t grant him a truce even if spears spare him.


On Staying Awake

The unwise man is awake all night,
and ponders everything over;
when morning comes he is weary in mind,
and all is a burden as ever.

Do not overstay your welcome

A guest must depart again on his way,
nor stay in the same place ever;
if he bides too long on another’s bench
the loved one soon becomes loathed.

Giving praise

Praise day at even, a wife when dead,
a weapon when tried, a maid when married,
ice when ’tis crossed, and ale when ’tis drunk.

On Falling in Love

Never reproach another for his love:
It happens often enough
That beauty ensnares with desire the wise
While the foolish remain unmoved.

Odin and sons depicted in Libellus de primo Saxonum uel Normannorum adventu, dating from the 12th century. – Wikimedia Commons

On being honest

Affection is mutual when men can open
All their heart to each other:
He whose words are always fair
Is untrue and not to be trusted.

On Children

Let none put faith in the first sown fruit
nor yet in his son too soon;
whim rules the child, and weather the field,
each is open to chance.

On Enemies

If aware that another is wicked, say so:
Make no truce or treaty with foes.


On doorways

All the doorways, before one enters, should be looked around, should be spied out; it can’t be known for certain where enemies are sitting in the hall ahead.

There are several translations of the entire text of the Hávamál – you can find them hereherehere and here. A new translation of this work can be found in The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, by Jackson Crawford.