HOTW #003

Today’s excerpt will focus on friendship and generosity:

40. Let no man stint him and suffer need
of the wealth he has won in life;
oft is saved for a foe what was meant for a friend,
and much goes worse than one weens.

41. With raiment and arms shall friends gladden each other,
so has one proved oneself;
for friends last longest, if fate be fair
who give and give again.

42. To his friend a man should bear him as friend,
and gift for gift bestow,
laughter for laughter let him exchange,
but leasing pay for a lie.

43. To his friend a man should bear him as friend,
to him and a friend of his;
but let him beware that he be not the friend
of one who is friends to his foe.

44. Hast thou a friend whom thou trustest well,
from whom thou cravest good?
Share thy mind with him, gifts exchange with him,
fare to find him oft.

This is kind of a long excerpt, but I chose to group these stanzas together because they provide a good outline for what the Old Norse considered proper etiquette among friends.

Stanzas 40 to 42 refer to one of the most important virtues in Germanic cultures, generosity. Generosity, reciprocated, meant the continuation of alliances and relationships, and ensured that everybody was rewarded in some way or other. This is evident in several other pieces of literature, including an Old Norse proverb…

Gjöf sér æ til gjalda

A gift always looks for a return.

…excerpts from the Prose Edda and Beowulf…

…þeir menn, er hersar heita. Kenna má þá sem konung eða jarl, svá at kalla þá gullbrjóta ok auðmildinga…”

“…those men, who are called hersar (lords) can be referred to like a king or a jarl, by calling them gold-breakers and wealth-bountiful ones…”

Prose Edda

“He beot ne aleh,
beagas dælde,
sinc æt symle.”

“[King Hrothgar] did not leave unfulfilled his oath:
rings he dealt out,
and treasure at the ale-feast.”


…and known practices, such as the open distribution of spoils of war by the ruler to his war-band.

“All of the treasures and favors which the retainers receive come directly from their lord, even though they have originally won these treasures in battle themselves…Generosity towards his retainers is, along with prowess in battle, the most important virtue which a lord can possess, and is the quality most praised in Germanic heroic poetry.” [1]

This generous relationship would not be restricted solely to rulers and their followers, but was also applicable between men of equal rank.

Stanza 43 explains that a friend of a friend will always be considered a friend. It also cautions against casual affiliation however as on the contrary, a friend of a foe will be considered a foe. Abiding by this would have ensured a small, but strong and loyal bond between people, which would have outlasted any pact of friendship made on a whim. This would also ensure against any internal conflict and strife between allegiances.

Stanza 44 returns to the idea of generosity between friends, and supplements that with the notion of openness and honesty. In essence, if you wish to keep a friend you trust and admire a lot, be generous, be open and honest, and he will stay with you.

Further information on Viking culture can be read at The Viking Answer Lady.

The Havamal can be read in its full and complete text here.

Yours in service,
Lady Mathilde Huldsdotter, AoA



[1] Cherniss, Michael D. Ingeld and Christ: Heroic Concepts and Values in Old English Christian Poetry. The Hague: Mouton, 1972. Print.