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The discussion and analysis presented after these translated stanzas is our opinion.  Read the translations for yourself and our analysis, but also seek out varied sources and come to your own conclusions.


STANZA 17 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden & Taylor:

When he meets friends, the fool gapes,
Is shy and sheepish at first,
Then he sips his mead and immediately
All know what an oaf he is,

Bellows:

The fool is agape | when he comes to the feast,
He stammers or else is still;
But soon if he gets | a drink is it seen
What the mind of the man is like.

Bray:

A fool will gape when he goes to a friend,
and mumble only, or mope;
but pass him the ale cup and all in a moment
the mind of that man is shown.

Chisholm:

The fool gapes when among the folk.
He mutters and mopes,
and soon it is seen, when he gets drunk,
what his mind is like.

Hollander:

The fool but gapes when to folks he comes,
he mumbles and mopes;
soon is seen, when his swillhe had,
what the mind of the man is like.

Terry:

The stupid man on a visit stares,
he mutters or he mopes;
all he has to do is take a drink
and what wit he has collapses.

Thorpe:

A fool gapes
when to a house he comes,
to himself mutters or is silent;
but all at once,
if he gets drink,
then is the manís mind displayed.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 17

It is interesting, because the translations of lines 1 and 2 vary so much from one another.  We have a fool who is visiting a feast, visiting with friends, visiting a house, among the folk, or just visiting in general.  I'm not sure why the translations describe so many varied circumstances.  It is fair to say though, that the stanza is talking about a fool and he is a visiting fool.  It probably just doesn't matter that much where he is visiting or who he is visiting...but he is certainly visiting.

And this visiting fool mutters and mopes, or mutters and is silent, or stammers and gapes, or is shy and sheepish.  What image do all of these translations give us?  Essentially, the fool is visiting among people...and he is enormously awkward and somewhat quiet.  He's uncomfortable, mutters a bit, and then says nothing. 

Lines 3 and 4 describe what happens when alcohol is introduced to the scenario.  Basically, once the visiting fool is given alcohol...his status as an absolute fool is revealed to all.  The translations say this in different ways.  Some say his "mind is displayed" or his "mind is shown," while some say that his "wit collapses" or he is shown to be an "oaf."

We have earlier in the Havamal warnings that alcohol will steal away a man's wisdom, and how bad this situation can be.  Here we have it clearly stated that not only does alcohol steal you wisdom...but it will clearly reveal those that have no wisdom in the first place. 

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