:: The Vikings of Bjornstad ::
Viking Wisdom

Vikings had no lack of guidance in their daily lives.  Wisdom was passed down to them from family, elders, oral tradition, and later, the written sagas.  Here's a fascinating list of aphorisms from the Icelandic sagas.  Everything below, including the list and the notes that follow, was written by Alfta "Svanni" Lothurrsdottir, with and edited by Ari Odhinssen.  The original document is here.  If you have comments, let us know at info@vikingsofbjornstad.com.

Inspired by and from the Icelandic Sagas

1   A man's own hand is most to be trusted. (VGS, c.4)
2   Let another's wounds be your warning. (Njal's Saga, c.37)
3   Slow and sure. (Njal's Saga, c.44)
4   Ill rede bring ill luck. (Njal's Saga, c.45)
5   His hands are clean who warns another. (Njal's Saga, c.41)
6   It is the turn of mind of all men first to give away what has been stolen, if they have it in their keeping. (Njal's Saga, c.49)
7   Birds of a feather flock most together. (Njal's Saga, c.51)
8   Never break the peace which good and true men make between you and others. (Njal's Saga, c.55)
9   For with law shall our land be built up and settled, and with lawlessness wasted and spoiled. (Njal's Saga, c.69)
10   When ill seed has been sown, so an ill crop will spring from it. (Njal's Saga, c.114)
11   But a short while is hand fain of blow. [1] (Njal's Saga, c.133)
12   It may often be that those live long who are slain with words alone. (Njal's Saga, c.45)
13   Better is one crow in the hand than two in the wood. (Laxdaela Saga, c.24)
14   Never cheat your master. [2] (Njal's Saga, c.86)
15   Be warned by another's woe. (Njal's Saga,c.13)
16   Nothing ventured, nothing gained. (Njal's Saga, c.5) (HR, c.10, BH)
17   Pride and wrong often end badly. (VGS, c.7)
18   The nights of blood are the nights of most impatience. [3] (VGS, c.8) (VA, c.24)
19   The cattle are like their master. (VGS, c.13)
20   Braver are many in word than in deed. (GS, c.4)
21   The friend warns his friend of ill. (GS, c.17)
22   He knows most who most has tried. (GS, c.17)
23   Many seem wise who are lacking in wit. (GS, c.17)
24   The thrall alone takes instant vengeance; the coward never. (GS, c.15)
25   Work not done, needs no reward. (GS, c.17)
26   Many a trifle happens at eve. (GS, c.18)
27   Every one is master of his own words. (GS, c.19)
28   Long shall a man be tried. (GS, c.20)
29   The guess of the wise is truth. (GS, c.31)
30   Luck is one thing, brave deeds another. (GS, c.34)
31   True is the saying that no man shapes his own fortune (Luck). (GS, c.41)
32   Be not a braggart for if any work done be praise-worthy, others will sing your praises for you.
33   Often he who has many words says little of worth.
34   The overpraised are the worst deceivers. (GS, c.45)
35   One man's tale is but half a tale. (GS, c,46)
36   One evil is mended by a worse one. [4] (GS, c.47)
37   There is more in the heart of man than money can buy. (GS, c.47)
38   The mother is best. (GS, c.17)
39   Many have been brought to death by overconfidence. (GS, c.54)
40   Ill is the lot of him who has an ill name. (GS, c.56)
41   Oft in the woods is a listener nigh. (GS, c.59)
42   The unjust man prospers ill. (GS, c.62)
43   Trust no man so well that you trust not yourself better. Many are unfit to be trusted. (GS, c.67)
44   The hand turns to its wonted skill, and that which was learned in youth is always most familiar. (GS, c.78)
45   Many go to the goat-house to get wool. [5] (GS, c.78)
46   There are few more certain tokens of ill than not to know how to accept the good. (GS, c.78)
47   Old friends are the last to break away. (GS, c.82)
48   It is ill to have a thrall for your friend. (GS, c.82)
49   Bare is his back who has no brother. (GS, c.82)
50   A wagging tongue is the beginning of ill works.
51   Many a fair skin hides a foul mind. (ES, c.16)
52   Many are the words of bravery in times of weal, but few are they whose actions match brave words in times of woe.
53   Boldly do men talk from a distance. (HS)
54   Ill it is when men, with smooth talk, sidestep what is just and good. (HS, c.35)
55   Best it is, for man's words to seek peace when it is possible. (HS, c.35)
56   Likely is ill the result when words of slander fly. (HS, c.35)
57   Wise men hold it that distance is the cure of rage. (HS, c.35)
58   Many a man keeps his word of foster-brothership but middlingly well. (TVS, c.16)
59   It is good to have two mouths for the two kinds of speech. [6] (TVs, c.16)
60   It is better to keep one's oath. (TVs, c.19)
61   Varied will be his fortunes who fares far. (SFB, c.6)
62   Alone is it seemly to hold truly to troth given. (VS, c.4)
63   Fear not death, for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it. (VS, c.5)
64   Sweet to the eye is that which is seen. (VS, c.5)
65   No might against many. (VS, c.11)
66   Better to fight and fall than to live without hope. (VS, c.12)
67   For whoso comes amongst many shall one day find that no one man is by so far the mightiest of all. (VS, c.18)
68   When men meet foes in fight, better is stout heart than sharp sword. (VS, c.19)
69   Where wolf's ears are, wolf's teeth are near. (VS, c.19)
70   Be kind to friend and kin, and reward not their trespasses against you; bear and forbear, and win for yourself thereby long enduring praise of men. (VS, c.21)
71   Ill it is to take love from another man's wife. (VS, c.21)
72   Let not thy mind be overmuch crossed by unwise men at thronged meetings of folk; for oft these speak worse than they wot of; lest thou be called a dastard, and art art even as is said; slay such an one on another day, and so reward his ugly talk.minded to think that thou (VS, c.21)
73   When faring on journeys, ward yourself well. Take not harbor near the highway for thereby dwell many ill wights for men's bewilderment. (VS, c.21)
74   If you hear the fool's word of a drunken man, strive not with him who is drunk with drink and witless, for often only ill and doom come out of such things. (VS, c.21)
75   Fight your foes in the field, nor be burnt in your house. (VS, c.21)
76   Never swear false oaths; great and grim is the reward for the breaking of troth. (VS, c.21)
77   Give kind heed to the dead, sick-dead, Sea-dead, or word-dead; treat their bodies with respect and see that they are laid to rest with respect. (VS, c.21)
78   Trust not him whose father, brother or other kin you have slain no matter how young he be, for often grows the wolf in the child. (VS, c.21)
79   Kinsmen to kinsmen should be true. (OH, c.186)
80   Ill it is to sit lamenting for what cannot be had. (VS, c.24)
81   Who can say what sorrow seemingly carefree folk bear to their life's end. (VS, c.24)
82   Ill is it to abash folk of their mirth. (VS, c.25)
83   Good to love good things when all goes according to thy heart's desire. [7] (VS, c.28)
84   Never nourish a wolf-cub. [8] (VS, c.30)
85   Short is the hour for acting, and long the hour for feasting. (SHG, c.28)
86   Fear is the mother of defeat.
87   No harvest is had without the seed first being sown. (OT, c.8)
88   To take up great resolutions, and then to lay them aside, only ends in dishonor. (OT, c.9)
89   The king has many ears. (OT, c.89)
90   What people wish they soon believe. (OT, c.122)
91   Who can't defend the wealth they have must die, or share with the rover bold. (OH, c.6)
92   The common always love what is new. (OH, c.33)
93   It is their lot who stand with the great that they enjoy high honors, and are more respected than others, but stand often in danger of their lives. (OH, c.67)
94   Every one has some friend even among his enemies. (OH, c.73)
95   Better it is to have a lower position in life and be free than to have a position of power only to be subject to the will of another. (OH, c.79)
96   There are few things for which a match cannot be found. [9] (OH, c.86)
97   Luck accompanies wisdom. (OH, c.131)
98   A rotten branch will be found in every tree. (OH, c.148)
99   Too much ale and a man's heart is laid open for all to see. (OH, c.151)
100   A man's own hand is the truest test. [10] (OH, c.153)
101   Two masters is one too many, if a man wishes to be true. (OH, c.170)
102   Eagles should show their claws, though dying. (OH, c.186)
103   With many who come to power and honor, pride keeps pace with promotion. (MG, c.8)
104   The sluggard waits till afternoon. (MG, c.17)
105   Youth is hasty. (SHH, c.27)
106   It is an old custom for the wisest to give way. [11] (SHH, c.27)
107   Ill is the result of letting fear rule thine actions. (SHH, c.46)
108   All a people need in order to rise up against tyranny is a leader bold enough to take up the banner. (SHH, c.45)
109   Numbers cannot skill withstand. [12] (SHH, c.65)
110   Bravery is half the victory. (SHH, c.103)
111   Bad counsel comes to a bad end. (MB, c.6)
112   Many a friend is poor help indeed, in times of need. (MB, c.6)
113   The bold succeed where so ever they go. (MB, c.8)
114   One whose life you save often gives a very bad return. (MB, c.21)
115   Sorrow is lightened by being brought out openly. (SC, c.18)
116   There are plenty of affairs full of danger to start with, that bring good luck in the end. (HE, c.7)
117   Ill luck is homebred. (DS, c.10)
118   If words leave the lips, they travel. (FS, c.11)
119   It's better to be betrayed than to trust no one. (FS, c.13)
120   Wrong begets wrong. (FS, c.16)
121   Many are wise after the event. (FS, c.19)
122   The one you trust most can disappoint you most. (FS, c.23)
123   He who warns is not to be blamed. (FS, c.23)
124   A miser can never give a gift without a snag. (GA, c.1)
125   Luck follows the generous. (GA, c.9)
126   Warning wards of blame. (HR, c.4)
127   Often is there regret for saying too much, and seldom regret for saying too little. (HR, c.7)
128   A person's actions are often worse than their intentions. (HR, c.10)
129   Stubbornness brings either greater humiliation or greater honor. (HR, c.10)
130   Short is the life of the proud. (HR, c.14)
131   A sleeping man's an ignorant man too. (HF)
132   One man cannot stand up against many. (JS, c.21)
133   Better to die with honor than live with shame. (JS, c.23, BH)
134   A wounded coward lies low. (TS)
135   Ill it is to take action when a person shouldn't and hold back when a person should. (TS)
136   Anybody who offends a more powerful man can hardly expect to wear out many more new shirts. (TS)
137   Oft one finds, when the foe he meets, that he is not the bravest of all. (Fafnismal 17)
138   It often happens that he who gets a death wound yet avenges himself. (Fafnismal 20)
139   The brave man well shall fight and win, though dull his blade may be. (Fafnismal 28)
140   All should be told to a friend. (Egil's Saga, c.56)
141   He falls not whom true friends help forward on his way. (Egil's Saga, c.67)
142   Bad counsel turns out badly. (VA, c.3)
143   There is more honor in accumulating little by little than in reaching for the sky and ending up flat on your face. (VA, c.7)
144   The reason why young men get nowhere is that they overestimate the obstacles every time. (HR, c.7)
145   Few things are more powerful than wyrd. (VA, c.12)
146   It is hard to fly in the face of wyrd. (VA, c.14)
147   Falling in battle is the lot of brave men. (VA, c.24)
148   Good it is to end a stout life with a stout death. (MB, c.6)
149   Forethought is better than afterthought. (VA, c.40)
150   A person should trust their own experience rather than hearsay. (BS, c.2)
151   Reputation rarely flatters. (BS, c.2)
152   Many eyes squint when there's money around. (BS, c.5)
153   When truth and fairness are different from what is law, better it is to follow truth and fairness. (BS, c.6)
154   A person should not agree today to what they'll regret tomorrow. (BS, c.10)
155   Ill it is to abandon honor and integrity in exchange for injustice and greed. (BS, c.10)
156   Wisdom is welcome wherever it comes from. (BS, c.10)
157   Gossip often leads to trouble. (GSS, c.9)
158   A wise man does all things in moderation. (GSS, c.15)
159   A gift always looks to be repaid. (GSS, c.16)
160   Great deeds and ill deeds often fall within each other's shadow. (GSS, c.17)
161   The treachery of friend is worse than that of a foe. (GSS, c.32)
162   Lighter to pay is the vengeance-price, after the deed, if the son is dead. [13] (Sigurtharkvitha en Skamma 11)
163   A person should exhibit frith whatever may come. Though many wish for good, ill is oft the more mighty. (Atlamol en Gronlenzku 34)
164   A man without wisdom is lacking in much. (Hamthesmal 29)
165   In fashion of wolves, in befits kin not, amongst themselves, to strive. (Hamthesmal 31)
166   None outlives the night when the Norns have spoken. (Hamthesmal 32)
167   A man should have his plans worked out before he enters into great undertakings or incites others to them. (RS, c.8)
168   Ill counselled is it to lend one's money to unknown men. (GW, c.7)
169   Long is it remembered what youth has gained. (GW, c.13)
170   The eyes of a maid, tell true, to whom her love she has given. (GW, c.13)
171   The more folk stand in the way of two hearts that yearn for each other, the hotter the flame of love waxes. (VF, c.11)
172   Often times it is not numbers that wins the victory, but those who fare forward with the most vigor. (TG, c.19)
173   Few are bold in old age that are cowardly in childhood. (VS, c.18)
174   A person should tend to the oak if they want to live under it. (EG, c.71)
175   Only a coward waits to be taken like a lamb from the fold or a fox from a trap. (LS, c.40)
176   Least said, soonest mended. (LS)
177   It can be expected that a man who has a lot on his mind will not always be careful enough. (HR, c.9)
178   Who dares, wins. (HR, c.9)
179   It often happens that things go by turns. [14] (TG, c.31)
180   Stand by your own trial and not by what others say. (GJ)
181   Ward thy words well, for they may seem more hasty later, than they do now. (GJ)
182   It may go well at first, for those who try to lord it over others, but they may find things more difficult as time goes by. (GJ)
183   It is best to only say today what will not be regretted tomorrow. (BS, c.10)
184   Beware of those who speak fairly but think falsely. (BH, c.7)
185   Ill is the result of being more given to big talk than using one's wits. (BH, c.19 )
186   Many travels, many fortunes. (EG, c.38)
187   It is better to ride a whole wagon home. (EG, c.38)
188   Anything can be told to a friend. (EG, c.56)
189   The king's palace is an easy place to enter but hard to leave. (EG, c.69)
190   Often a man becomes brave in dire straits, who is not brave most other times. (ES, c.18)
191   Do not expect to make headway with a frail sailcloth. (ES, c.20)
192   Often it is that what happens to most others will happen to you. (ES, c.32)
193   It is best not to believe what no one else believes. (FS, c.25)
194   A small bird makes a small catch. (FS, c.29)
195   The run of the game is decided by the first move. (FO, c.15)
196   Seldom will a voyage go well if the men are at odds. (FO, c.20)
197   Often it is that anger is blind to the truth. (FO, c.22)
198   If a man's time has not come, something will save him. (FO, c.23)
199   There’s no excusing the man who rejects the truth once it’s proven. (FO, c.23)
200   It is long time before scorched ground grows again. (FO, c.24)
201   Vyrd often finds a person to speak through. (GSS, c.9)
202   What brothers own jointly is best seen together. (GSS, c.10)
203   A wise man does all things in moderation. (GSS, ch.18)
204   He knows all who knows when to stop. (GJ)
205   A gift always looks to be repaid. (GSS, c.18)
206   Low the mocker’s fame lies. (GJ)
207   It’s a bad thing to goad the obstinate. (GS, c.14)
208   What only happens to one is worst. (GS, c.16)
209   Many hands make light work. (GS, c.17)
210   Every man is the master of his own words. (GS, c.19)
211   It takes time to know people. (GS, c.20)
212   Never reach around a door for the handle. (GS, c.28)
213   Fate and fortune do not always go hand-in-hand. (GS, c.34)
214   What is done shall be told all the same. (GS, c.40)
215   What is tested is known. (GS, c.40)
216   No man is his own creator. (GS, c.41)
217   You can hardly expect any peace for troublemakers. (TPMA)
218   More people prefer the worse side of a story which has two versions. (GS, c.46)
219   There is greater consolation than money. (GS, c.47)
220   You can’t provide for everything. (GS, c.52)
221   The fire seems hottest to a burned man. (GS, c.59)
222   Overbearing reaps a bad reward. (GS, c.62)
223   Many a man is blind to his own faults. (GS, c.68)
224   There is a time for everything. (GS, c.73)
225   No one is a total fool if he knows when to hold his tongue. (GS, c.88)
226   All things happen in threes. (GS, c.88)
227   Many breakers of battle-axes are more brag than brains. (GS, c.4)
228   Not every cloud which darkens the day brings rain. (HS, c.7)
229   One should warn even a dim-witted troll if he sits naked by a fire. (HS, c.14)
230   The fool is busy in everyone’s business but his own. (HS, c.14)
231   Nothing good can happen to people who break their solemn vows. (HR, c.6)
232   He’s a wise man who knows himself. (HR, c.7)
233   Hard words break no bones. (HTS, c.13)
234   Evil grows from evil. (HTS, c.14)
235   That which has a bad beginning, is likely to have a bad ending. (HTS, c.4)
236   Ill is it to do the wrong and leave the right undone. (KR, c.3)
237   One should not ask more than would be thought fitting. (KR, c.10)
238   A hungry wolf is bound to wage a hard battle. (LS, c.19)
239   The counsel of fools is the more misguided the more of them there are. (LS, c.21)
240   Better a brief spell of honour than a long rule of shame. (LS, c.29)
241   When one wolf hunts for another he may eat the prey. (LS, c.23)
242   A bird in the hand was better than two in the bush. (LS, c.24)
243   Only idlers wait till evening. (LS, c.35)
244   Festivals are a time of fortune. (LS, c.40)
245   The longer the vengeance is drawn out, the more satisfying it will be. (LJS, c.13)
246   The wide woods often cover outlaw and wolf together. (TPMA)
247   Word carries, though mouth stands still. (VFS, c.3)
248   He with a short knife must try, try again. (VFS, c.7)
249   Every man must plough his own furrow.” (VFS, c.5)
250   Better to take warning early than late. (VFS, c.40)
251   Gold is little comfort for the kinsman dead. (OO, c.11)
252   When someone speaks of ill, it is never far away. (OO, c.23) [15]
253   Beggars always want to be choosers. (OO, c.24)


Sögumál is not an ancient text but a modern compilation of ancient texts and sayings based on ancient texts. Since Volsunga Saga includes most of the Heroic lays from the Poetic Edda, material from those lays are included here. The few verses which do not have a citation following, are of my own authoring based on situations in the sagas. All other verses are either direct quotes with perhaps a little editing to put them more properly in verse form or are paraphrases. The paraphrased verses were paraphrased in an attempt to either make the meaning more clear or to update the language into a less archaic form of English.
- Álfta Svanni Lothursdottir

31 August 2002 - Debuted to the public.
2 April 2003 - Strophes 149-179 added. Thanks go to Philip A. Lee for sending in the quotes for strophes 173-178.
29 October 2003 - Many thanks go to Richard L. Harris for allowing us to use material from his excellent Concordance to the Proverbs and Proverbial Materials in the Old Icelandic Sagas for strophes 180-251.


AH - The Story of Ale-Hood
AS - Audun's Story
ASX - The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
BB - Bolli Bollason's Tale
BH - The Saga of Bjarn of the Hitdoela Champions
BS - Bandamanna Saga
DS - Droplaugarson's Saga
EA - Egil's and Asmund's Saga
EG - Egil's Saga
ENM - Estonian National Museum Web Site
ER - Eirik the Red's Saga
ES - Eyrbyggja Saga
FB - The Flatey Book
FS - Fljotsdale Saga
FO - Fóstbrœðra saga - The Foster-brother's Saga
G - Germania
GA - Gautrek's Saga
GJ - Guðmundur Jónsson, Safn af íslenzkum orðskviðum, fornmælum, heilræðum, snilliyrðum, sannmælum og málsgreinum, samanlesið of í stafrófsröð sett af Guðmundi Jónssyni prófasti í Snæfellsnessýslu og presti í Staðarstaðarsókn. Kaupmannahöfn, 1830.
GOTH - Gothic History Of Jordanes
GR - Saga of King Harald Grafeld and of Earl Hakon Son of Sigurd
GRE - Greendland's Saga
GS - Grettir's Saga
GSS - Gisli Sursson's Saga
GW - The Tale of Gunnlaug the Worm-tongue and Raven the Skald
GY - Gylfaginning (The Prose Edda)
HAH - The Tale of Hogni and Hedinn
HAK - The Saga of Hakon Herdebreid
HAL - The Story of Hallador Snorrason
HB - The Saga of Halfdan the Black
HE - The Story of Herraud and Bosa
HF - The Story of Hreidar the Fool
HG - The Saga of Hromund Gripsson
HH - Harald Harfager's Saga
HL - History of the Langobards
HR - The Saga of Hrafnkel Freysgothi
HS - Heitharvega Saga
HT - The Story of Helgi Thorisson
HTS - Hen-Thorir's Saga
JS - The Saga of the Jomsvikings
KR - Króka-refs Saga
KS - Kormak's Saga
KT - The Saga of Ketil Trout
KU - Of the Kings of the Uplands
LRE - The Later Roman Empire (A.D. 354-378) - Ammianus Marcellinus
LJS - Ljósvetninga Saga
LS - Laxdaela Saga
MB - The Saga of Magnus Barefoot
ME - The Saga of Magnus Erlingsson
MG - The Saga of Magnus the Good
OH - The Saga of Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olaf)
OO - Örvar Odd's Saga
OK - The Saga of Olaf Kyrre
OT - King Olaf Trygvisson's Saga
RF - The Tale of Roi the Fool
ROB - Concerning the Ruin of Britain: De Excidio Britanniae, by Gildas
RS - The Saga of Ref the Sly
RV - Reykdoela saga (ok Víga-Skutu)
SC - The Saga of Sigurd the Crusader and His Brothers Eystein and Olaf
SFB - The Saga of Fridthjof the Bold
SH - The Tale of Sarcastic Halli
SHG - The Saga of Hakon the Good
SHH - The Saga of Harald Hardrade
SI - The Saga of Illugi
SIE - The Saga of Sigurd, Inge, and Eystein, the Sons of Harald
SK - Skaldskaparmal (The Prose Edda)
SMB - The Saga of Magnus the Blind and of Harald Gille
SW - The Tale of the Story-Wise Icelander
TG - The Saga of Thrond of Gate (Færeyinga Saga)
TMM - The Story of Thorstein Mansion-Might
TPMA - Thesaurus Proverbiorum Medii Aevi, 14 vols., Samuel Singer Kuratorium
TS - The Saga of Thorstein Staff-struck
TTS - The Tale of Thorstein Shiver
TVS - The Saga of Thorstein Viking's Son
VFS - Vapnfirðinga Saga
VA - Vatnsdæla Saga
VF - The Story of Viglund the Fair
VGS - Viga Glum's Saga
VS - Volsunga Saga
YS - Ynglinga Saga

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