This boisterous illustration by the German artist Emil Doepler (c. 1855-1922) is a depiction of Valhöll (better known as Valhalla), the great hall of the Norse god, Odin. Valhalla was where warriors believed they could be brought in the afterlife if their military careers were bold and glorious enough to catch the appraising eye of Odin and his Valkyries. There, in and around Odin’s hall, the heroic souls would engage in endless feasts and battles until they were finally mobilized for their final battle at the oncoming of the Norse doomsday of the gods—Ragnarök. Many medieval descriptions of Valhalla exist, some of which are in the anonymous poems that make up the so-called Poetic Edda, a collection of old Norse verses that were gathered and compiled in Iceland around the 13th century. Many of those poems, however, focused more on the military side of Valhalla, commenting on how its benches were draped in mail coats and that its walls and roof were covered in shields, and how many hundreds of warriors could charge in and out of its doorways at one time. For an account that instead mimics Emil Doepler’s focus on the partying and drinking inside the hall, we can turn to the Icelandic politician and historian, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), who elaborated on Valhalla’s lively feasts in his Prose Edda. He wrote of a certain wiseman named King Gylfi, who was said to have been able to venture into Valhalla. According to Snorri Sturluson, these are the sights that Gylfi witnessed:
“Gylfi saw a man in the doorway of the hall. He was juggling short swords and had seven in the air at once…The man then turned and went into the hall. Gylfi followed him and immediately the door closed after him. He saw many living areas there and groups of people. Some were playing games, some were drinking, and some had weapons and were fighting. He looked around, and it seemed to him that much of what he was seeing was incredible” (Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 2).
This atmosphere of feasting and partying is what Emil Doepler re-created in his illustration. In Odin’s hall, the food and drink was never-ending, and the elite warriors of Valhalla only put their festivities on hold when time came for them to engage in their daily battle amongst themselves, after which the party resumed.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.
- Poetic Edda, was produced anonymously in 13th-Iceland. Translation by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford University Press, 2014).