The Catalogue of Dwarfs

I discovered the other day that the past Sunday, 25 March, had been declared “International Tolkien Reading Day”. I don’t know who declared the day, but it seemed a significant event in some sense, and I marked it in my own small way. In the course of the day I happened to be talking to a friend about Tolkien’s works, particularly The Hobbit and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings, and mentioned in passing the “Dvergatal”, or “The Catalogue of Dwarfs”, a small collection of verses found in the Eddic poem “Vǫluspá”, or “The Prophecy of the Seeress”. The names of many of Tolkien’s characters are found in such sources, and I believe that the most significant of his dwarfs are listed in this “catalogue” — Tolkien fans will recognize most of the names.

“Vǫluspá” is the first poem in what is variously called the “Poetic Edda”, or “Elder Edda”, or “Sæmund’s Edda”. This is a repository of ancient Scandinavian verse, mainly Icelandic or Norwegian in origin. The manuscript, known as Codex Regius, in which the majority of the Eddic poems were brought together by some unknown Icelandic collector, is believed to date from around 1270 CE. No one knows how old the poems themselves are, but at least some of them are thought to have been composed as early as the 9th or 10th centuries, the so-called Viking Age, and to preserve authentic pre-Christian traditions.

“Dvergatal” is generally believed to be a late addition to “Vǫluspá”, and therefore is often left out of editions of the poem. The following is from pages 383-384 of Lee M. Hollander’s translation, The Poetic Edda (Austin: The University of Texas, 1928).

Then gathered together | the gods for counsel,
the holy hosts, | and held converse:
who the deep-dwelling | dwarfs was to make
of Brimir’s blood | and Bláïn’s bones.

Mótsognir rose, | mightiest ruler
of the kin of dwarfs, | but Durin next;
molded many | manlike bodies
the dwarfs under earth, | as Durin bade them.

Nýi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althióf, Dvalin,
Nár and Náïn, | Níping, Dáïn,
Bífur, Bófur, | Bombur, Nóri,
Án and Ónar, | Áï, Miothvitnir.

Vigg and Gandalf, | Vindalf, Thraïn,
Thekk and Thorin, | Thrór, Vit, and Lit,
Nýr and Regin, | Nýráth and Ráthsvith;
now is reckoned | the roster of dwarfs.

Fili, Kíli, | Fundin, Náli,
Heptifili, | Hannar, Svíur,
Frár, Hornbori, | Fræg and Lóni,
Aurvang, Iari, | Eikinskialdi.

The dwarfs I tell now | in Dválin’s host,
down to Lofar, | for listening wights–
they who hied them | from halls of stone
over sedgy shores | to sandy plains.

There was Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
Hór and Haugspori, | Hlévang, Glóin,
Dóri, Óri, | Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, | Skáfith, Áï,

Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskialdi,
Fialar and Frosti, | Fith and Ginnar;
will ever be known, | while earth doth last,
the line of dwarfs | to Lofar down.

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