Joe Devos



6 December, 2002


Acker, Paul. “Dwarf-lore in Alvíssmál.” The Poetic Edda: Essays on Norse Mythology.

ed. Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington. New York: Routledge, 2002. 213-227.


            Acker summarizes the events of “Alvíssmál” and suggests an unconventional reading of the frame around the wisdom-section. The dwarf Alvíss, according to Acker, is not the typically socially phobic figure portrayed by dwarves in the larger mythological tales. Alvíss takes the unusual role of sexual aggressor which is quite out of character in comparison to most dwarf examples. Not only is Alvíss pursuing Þórr’s daughter for a wife, but also, uncharacteristically, he demonstrates knowledge. The dwarf’s name, Alvíss, meaning all-wise or all-knowing, demonstrates another trait that the common dwarf is not typically known for. While Acker points out that there are dwarves with magical and artisanal wisdom, the omniscient dwarf is an unusual item in Norse mythology. The sexually interested and knowledgeable dwarf undertakes a question and answer contest with Þórr in order to win a wife, yet the display of knowledge of synonyms for various objects suspiciously avoids the name for ‘day’. This is noticeable since the word for night is questioned. Acker also notes that while the word ‘sun’ is questioned, perhaps paradoxically, the dwarf does not take the cue from this to be wary of the approaching dawn. Finally, to answer this possible inconsistency, Acker suggests that the dwarf’s knowledge comes from the fact that he might very well know his own fate, and perhaps Alvíss is a pseudonym for another dwarf who might have photophobic concerns, Dvalin.



Acker, Paul. “Flexible Formulas, Systems & Strategies in Old Icelandic.” Revising Oral

Theory: Formulaic Composition in Old English and Old Icelandic Verse. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998. 61-66.


            This study of the alliterative patterns within “Alvíssmál” focuses on the wisdom-section and the stylistic and syntactical variations therein. Acker demonstrates that in the question and responses given by Þórr and the dwarf, certain phrases are repeated nearly verbatim, with the exception of substitution of synonyms or ‘heiti’. These ‘heiti’are the names or interlingual expressions for the same object given them by the gods, men, elves, and so on. What the poet has done, besides catalog a wide variety of mythical concepts, is to demonstrate a structural variation possible with the standard poetic formula. This variation is based on alliterating the basic concepts with the ‘heiti’ or in some cases with the verb phrase in the dwarf’s responses. While Acker does not explicitly state this, the poem provides a neatly concise and complex mini-grammar for instruction on how to write poetry.



Bellows, Henry Adams. “Alvissmol: The Ballad of Alvis.” The Poetic Edda.


            Bellows prefaces his translation with a brief discussion of the origins and structure of the poem. Bellows cites Jonsson, Mogk, and Vigfusson who, interestingly, claims that traces of Celtic influence can be identified within.


Hollander, Lee M. “For Whom were the Eddic Poems Composed.” Journal of English

and Germanic Philology. (62) 1963, 136-42.


            Hollander briefly mentions “Alvíssmál” in this discussion of authorial intent and audience for the Eddic poetry. Hollander considers the variety of poetic subjects ranging from lowly trolls, dwarves, and elves, to the presumably more noble gods and kings. The fact that many of the Eddic lays are seemingly addressed to minor rulers or heroic audiences gives Hollander cause to question the reliability of the authors. It is suggested that many of the poems were composed by conscientious authors seeking to relate the myths and construct a body of heroic work. Hollander dissects the poetic lay “Hyndluljoth” and concludes from an analysis of the names within that the poem was intended to be a, “vindication of the pretensions of an upstart and in all probability was thought by the Icelandic Collector of the Eddic poems to be worthy of incorporation with them on account of its (spurious) mythological content (138).




Lindow, John. “Alvíssmál.” Handbook of Norse Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC Clio,

2001. 56-58.


            The entry for “Alvíssmál” in John Lindow’s encyclopedia contains brief historical, structural, and mythological analyses of the poem. The meter of the poem is identified as the ljothattr which is usually used for dialogue. Lindow’s detail of the poem lists 35 stanzas, 1-9 and 35 which deal with the framing of the wisdom-section, stanzas 10-34. Essentially, according to Lindow, the poem presents a poetic vocabulary, perhaps as an instructional device for those learning the skaldic craft. In the categorization of concepts there is not really a relaying of knowledge of factual information so much as the ‘heiti’ are transmitted and recorded. The poem seems to serve as a quasi-manual for the aspiring Old Norse poet.



Simek, Rudolf. “Alvíssmál.” Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Boydell & Brewer,



            Rudolf Simek, as translated by Angela Hall, provides a very brief sketch of “Alvíssmál” in that it relays basic historical speculation as to origin, and describes the structural and mythical content of the poem. There is brief bibliographic information contained at the end of the entry.