Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

login: password: stay logged in: help

Gamli kanóki (Gamlkan)

12th century; volume 7; ed. Katrina Attwood;

1. Harmsól (Has) - 65

Skj info: Gamli kanóki, Islandsk gejstlig og skjald, 12. årh. (AI, 561-72, BI, 547-65).

Skj poems:
1. Jóansdrápa
2. Harmsól

Gamli kanóki ‘canon Gamli’ (where the name Gamli, ‘the old one’ may itself be a nickname) is best known as the author of the poem Harmsól ‘Sun of Sorrow’, which is explicitly ascribed to him in a marginal note at the beginning of the poem on fol. 12r, l. 42 of the sole surviving ms., AM 757 a 4° (B): Harmsol er gamle orti kanokeHarmsól, which canon Gamli composed’. Gamli is also mentioned by name in Jóns saga postula (Jón4), where the author of the prose text prefaces the quotation of four sts from Gamli’s Jónsdrápa with the information: Annan mann til óðgirðar signaðum Johanni nefnum vér Gamla kanunk austr í Þykkvabœ, hann orti drápu dyrligum Johanni ‘As the second man to have composed a poem to blessed John we [I] name canon Gamli in the east at Þykkvabœr, he composed a drápa to S. John’ (Jón4 1874, 510). In a remark before the fourth st. Gamli is referred to as bróðir Gamli ‘Brother Gamli’ (Jón4 1874, 511). Þykkvabœr was an Augustinian monastery in south-eastern Iceland founded in 1168; Gamli was thus an Augustinian canon (or canon regular) of this community. His floruit can be inferred from the date of the foundation of Þykkvabœr as being in the mid- to late C12th.

file 2006-12-15 - Gamli kanoki w. MCR corrections

Harmsól (‘Sun of Sorrow’) — Gamlkan HasVII

Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Gamli kanóki, Harmsól’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Brepols, Turnhout, pp. 70-132.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   49   50   51   52   53   54   55   56   57   58   59   60   61   62   63   64   65 

Skj: Gamli kanóki: 2. Harmsól, „er gamle orti kanoke“ (AI, 562-72, BI, 548-65)

SkP info: VII, 70-132

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Harmsól ‘Sun of Sorrow’ (Gamlkan Has) is preserved complete in AM 757 a 4° (B) of c. 1400 on fols 12r-13v. The poem, a drápa in dróttkvætt metre, appears to have a dual function. It is a praise-poem addressed to Christ, whose purity, magnificence, creative power and holiness are stressed throughout the work in a series of magnificently crafted kennings. Has is also a versified sermon, in which the narrator urges his systkin ‘brothers and sisters’ (a liturgical phrase used in 45/6, 62/1-4, 64/1-8) to repentance. Having secured God’s help in his composition and the audience’s attention and silence (sts 1-5), Gamli launches into an evocation of human frailty and inadequacy, using a detailed confession of his own failings as illustration (sts 7-16). The confession focuses on Gamli’s spiritual blemishes, and there is a subtle use of the Confiteor to structure this section of the poem. The stefjabálkr (sts 17-45) develops this penitential theme, explaining how Christ, in his Incarnation, sought to resolve the disparity between man and God. A description of the Nativity (frequently echoed in later Christian poems, most notably Anon Lil) is followed by a haunting evocation of the Crucifixion (sts 21-7), which focuses on Christ’s generous response to the penitent thief. This partially dramatised account is the emotional centre of the poem, and Gamli’s mastery and manipulation of the skaldic genre is clear as he simplifies his diction and w.o. to exploit the full pathos and starkness of the scene. The narrative is suspended in st. 27, as Gamli delays his account of the Resurrection to force his audience to pause at the foot of the Cross and meditate on the magnitude of the events described. The emotional impact of this, following closely on a sequence in which the poem’s stylistic displays have been pared down to an austere, resonant minimum, is profound. The Passion scene gives way to accounts of the Resurrection and Ascension (sts 28-9). There follows, as part of the poem’s admonitory scheme, a promise of the imminence of the Second Coming and Last Judgement (st. 31), which draws on accounts of Ragnarǫk such as we find in the eddic Vsp. The stefjabálkr is completed by a picturesque description of the fate of the impenitent (sts 38-9), followed by an account of the rewards of the just (st. 40), the entire section punctuated with urgent exhortations to repent before it is too late. The slœmr (sts 46-65) further illustrates the benefits of penitence by recounting the exempla of three sinners to whom God responded with mercy: King David (sts 48-9), S. Peter (sts 50-1) and Mary Magdalene (st. 52). After a further series of appeals to Christ and the Virgin for mercy and mediation on behalf of mankind in general and Gamli in particular, the poem closes with a request that the poem’s hearers should pray for the soul of its author.

Harmsól is a complex and haunting poem, one of the masterpieces of Christian skaldic verse. To judge from the extensive echoes of it in later poetry, it was admired by successive generations of Christian skalds. It is clear from the poem’s numerous literary allusions that Gamli was fully immersed in both the Norse literary tradition — Has echoes several eddic works and is intimately related to contemporary skaldic poems, notably ESk Geisl and Anon Leið — and in latinate liturgical, homiletic, hagiographic and hymnodic works, though no direct sources have been traced. Gamli’s mastery of the skaldic form is particularly evinced by a series of kennings for God which characterise heaven as the home or kingdom of stormy weather, over which God rules. Although the ultimate inspiration for these figures is likely to be biblical, the kennings reveal an intimate appreciation of the power and beauty of the weather that is purely Icel.

Harmsól has long been recognised (Skard 1953; Attwood 1996b) as part of a group of four interrelated Christian drápur dating from the C12th. Other members of the group are Geisl and the anonymous Pl and Leið. These poems share a remarkable number of dictional and structural parallels, the most important of which are detailed in the Notes to this edn and in Attwood 1996b. Although all four poems can be reliably dated to the C12th, there is little trustworthy evidence either for the precise dating of individual texts or for the establishment of a relative chronology. A terminus ante quem is provided by the unique Pl ms., AM 673 b 4°, which is one of the earliest surviving Icel. mss, dated c. 1200 (Louis-Jensen 1998, 89). The other fixed point is supplied by Geisl (see Introduction to Geisl for circumstantial details) which is likely to have been recited sometime between winter 1152-3 and summer 1154. As Finnur Jónsson asserts (LH II, 115), linguistic evidence in Has — notably the coexistence of ór- and ár-forms in words like vára (18/8, 21/4, 57/8 etc.) and the tjalds : alla rhyme in 65/6 — also suggests a date from c. 1200 or the last quarter of the C12th.

Although all 65 sts of Has are preserved in B, that ms. is in a very poor state of preservation, dark and badly worn. It has therefore been necessary to rely selectively on previous transcriptions and eds of the poem to reconstruct the text where B is defective. Lbs 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ) is a bundle of loose papers which appear to be the working papers for Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s printed edn of four Christian poems (1844). 444ˣ’s transcription of Has is likely to be the work of Brynjólfur Snorrason, an Icel. student at the Arnamagnæan Institute in Copenhagen from 1842-50 (Attwood 1996a, 32-3). Brynjólfur’s transcription was copied by Jón Sigurðsson in JS 399a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ), and both this transcription and 444ˣ are heavily annotated by Sveinbjörn Egilsson. The 399a-bˣ transcript is identical in all respects to that preserved in 444ˣ, and the reference ‘399a-bˣ’ in the textual apparatus should be taken as shorthand for both transcripts. The 444ˣ bundle also contains a series of notes in Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s hand, in which a tentative prose arrangement of Has is worked out. Extensive use has also been made of Hugo Rydberg’s transcription of B in Rydberg 1907, which is generally reliable, though less conservative than the 444ˣ transcription, in that Rydberg incorporates speculative reconstructions (always annotated) into his transcription. When Rydberg’s transcription is referred to in the Readings it appears as BRydberg, while Finnur Jónsson’s transcription in Skj A, which relies heavily on Rydberg, is designated BFJ. The text of Has in Lbs 1152 8°ˣ (1152ˣ) fols 1-26 has also been consulted. This is Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s clean, print copy for his 1844 edn. There are four minor discrepancies between this copy and the printed text — accents are included in áðr (29/5), Ítr (30/1) and Úngr (42/1), and Sveinbjörn’s footnote to st. 7 has konúngs, rather than konúngr. References in the edited text below are to the 1844 printed text, rather than to 1152ˣ.

The first modern edn of Has was published by Sveinbjörn Egilsson, in his Fjøgur gømul kvæði (1844, 1-34). This partially-normalised text, which was prepared as a teaching text for use at the Lat. School at Bessastaðir, relies heavily on Brynjólfur Snorrason’s transcription in 444ˣ and Jón Sigurðsson’s annotated copy of that transcription in 399a-bˣ. Sveinbjörn’s printed edn forms the basis of Hjalmar Kempff’s 1867 edn, the Swedish translations and notes of which also draw heavily on Sveinbjörn’s interpretations in LP (1860). Hugo Rydberg’s 1907 doctoral dissertation contains a diplomatic transcription of Has, but does not supply a normalised prose arrangement, on the ground that Kempff’s edn was available. Has is also ed. by Finnur Jónsson (Skj A and B) and by E. A. Kock (Skald). Diplomatic and normalised texts of the poem are presented in Elizabeth Black’s Oxford BLitt dissertation (Black 1971). An annotated diplomatic transcription of the text in B is presented on pp. 83-102 of the doctoral thesis Attwood 1996a, and a normalised edn on pp. 222-302. Although the present edn draws heavily on that presented in the thesis, there are significant differences.


© Skaldic Project Academic Body, unless otherwise noted. Database structure and interface developed by Tarrin Wills. All users of material on this database are reminded that its content may be either subject to copyright restrictions or is the property of the custodians of linked databases that have given permission for members of the skaldic project to use their material for research purposes. Those users who have been given access to as yet unpublished material are further reminded that they may not use, publish or otherwise manipulate such material except with the express permission of the individual editor of the material in question and the General Editor of the volume in which the material is to be published. Applications for permission to use such material should be made in the first instance to the General Editor of the volume in question. All information that appears in the published volumes has been thoroughly reviewed. If you believe some information here is incorrect please contact Tarrin Wills with full details.