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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 30 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden & Taylor:

A man among friends should not mock another:
Many believe the man
Who is not questioned to know much
And so he escapes their scorn.

Bellows:

In mockery no one | a man shall hold,
Although he fare to the feast;
Wise seems one oft, | if nought he is asked,
And safely he sits dry-skinned.

Bray:

Let no man be held as a laughing-stock,
though he come as guest for a meal:
wise enough seem many while they sit dry-skinned
and are not put to proof.

Chisholm:

Do not ridicule another man,
though he is kin. He oft seems wise
who is not questioned,
and leaves dry skinned.

Hollander:

No mock make though of any man,
though thou comest amongsth kinsmen;
he knowing weens him whom no one has asked,
and dry-shod hies him home.

Terry:

Take more than a moment to judge a man
who comes on a visit;
many seem clever if they're asked no questions
and don't stay out in storms.

Thorpe:

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.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 30

The translations here vary a lot.  And, without a working knowledge of Old Norse, one has to sort of work their way through the various directions in which the translators went.

In very basic terms, all the translators except Terry translate this as suggesting that you should not question a man when he comes to feast (or comes among his kin, or comes among his friends), because most men seem wise if not questioned and will be able to avoid scorn if not questioned.  Coming at it from this direction it sort of sounds like, "leave well enough alone, and don't question friends, family, or those you feast with too closely...or you might prove them a fool and expose them to scorn."

Terry's translation is the only one that flips this idea a bit, and suggests you should take your time in judging a man that comes to visit, because many men appear wise as long as they are not questioned and don't stay out in the rain.

It appears that all but one of the translators maintain the last line as an analogy, speaking of the unquestioned man keeping a dry habit or dry skin.  This appears to symbolize avoiding scorn or coming away unscathed.  It is only Auden and Taylor that translate this reference to "dry-skin" very literally, and mention specifically avoiding the scorn of others.

With all the different versions, this stanza is a little more difficult to pin down.  Whatever its specific meaning, it is clear that it suggests at the very least that many men can appear wise and avoid problems if they remain unquestioned.  So, don't question family and friends too closely at feast, lest you expose them as fools.  And those you wish to expose potentially as fools, should be actively questioned and challenged. 

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