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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 31 OF THE HAVAMAL

Auden & Taylor:

The wise guest has his way of dealing
With those who taunt him at table:
He smiles through the meal,
not seeming to hear
The twaddle talked by his foes

Bellows:

Wise a guest holds it | to take to his heels,
When mock of another he makes;
But little he knows | who laughs at the feast,
Though he mocks in the midst of his foes.

Bray:

A guest thinks him witty who mocks at a guest
and runs from his wrath away;
but none can be sure who jests at a meal
that he makes not fun among foes.

Chisholm:

He is wise who leaves the flyting
when guest mocks guest.
He who grins at the feast
does not know that he chatters among foes.

Hollander:

A wise man he who hies him betimes
from the man who likes to mock;
for at table who teases can never tell
what foe he might have to fight.

Terry:

A man is wise to be far away
when one guest goads another;
he may sit at the table in friendly talk
and then learn he laughed with foes.

Thorpe:

Clever thinks himself
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.


DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF STANZA 31

This is another stanza (like stanza 30) that is approached in a variety of ways by the translators, making it a little more difficult to pin down.

Auden and Taylor have a very easy to understand translations, BUT it differs in meaning from what all the other translators came up with.  So, while I like Auden and Taylor's translation and think that it contains some great advice, I'm not sure it actually translates the stanza correctly.  Basically, Auden and Taylor suggest that the wise guest deals with those who mock him at feast, by smiling his way through it and ignoring their taunts.  In other words, the wise man refuses to take the bait when his enemies are attempting through words to drive him to anger or to a fight.  Again, good advice...but based on the other translations, this one seems a bit off.

Bellows, Bray, and Thorpe all suggest that the man who mocks another at feast thinks it is wise to then take to his heels, run from his wrath, or take flight after doing so.  And he thinks it wise, because one never knows if you are feasting among friends or foes.  In other words if you engage in mockery (or flyting) at a feast, it is best to be careful and flee, for even though everyone laughs, they may actually be your enemies and take action against you for what you have done.  Bellows, Bray, and Thorpe seem to be giving advice to the one doing the mocking itself.

Chisholm, Hollander, Terry go a different direction, and give advice directly to a person who is simply present during mockery or a flyting.  They suggest that it is wise to leave the feast once guests begin mocking guests or once one guest begins to goad another guest.  They suggest it is wise to leave, because you may laugh along and think you are having fun, but the situation may be very different than you think.  You may be sitting among foes, and by going along with what is happening you may suffer for it.

While the various translations make this one a hard one to pin down.  We can take a few very clear meanings from this.  You never quite know who you sit with, and should be careful not to engage in or go along with what appears to be friendly mockery or goading.  While you think it is all fun and games, you might sit among enemies or make enemies through your actions.  At the very least, if you do engage in or go along with what appears to be friendly mockery, flyting, or goading...don't be surprised when things go badly.  You are better off to leave or refuse to participate when such activity begins.

I think this is interesting, because we know that flytings, or structured mockery or verbal challenging did take place among our ancestors.  It was a traditional practice.  But, in an honor-based culture, it probably did not always go exactly as planned.  If one dishonored another, or went too far, it is possible that they could seek some sort of vengeance for what was said.  They may even laugh along with you to save some face at the time, and then regain their honor later through various means.  Even among our Gods and Goddesses, Loki's flyting did not go well for him.  He verbally mocked our Gods and Goddesses in Aegir's hall, and based on his words and actions there, he was hunted down and bound in the most drastic of ways.

In modern terms, things have not really changed much.  What was true then is true today.

Stanza 32 further explains the ideas in Stanza 31.

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