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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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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, ‘ Gamli kanóki, Harmsól’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 70-132. <> (accessed 17 May 2022)

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

SkP info: VII, 130-1

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

64 — Gamlkan Has 64VII

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Gamli kanóki, Harmsól 64’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 130-1.

Létum hróðr, þanns heitir
Harmsól, fetilkjóla
fyr hugprúða hríðar
herðendr borinn verða.
Mér biði hverr, es heyrir,
heimspenni, brag þenna,
œski-Þrór ok eirar
unnrǫðla miskunnar.

Létum hróðr, þanns heitir Harmsól, verða borinn fyr {hugprúða herðendr {hríðar {fetilkjóla}}}. {Hverr œski-Þrór {unnrǫðla}}, es heyrir þenna brag, biði mér {heimspenni} miskunnar ok eirar.

We [I] caused the praise-poem, which is called ‘Harmsól’, to be borne before {strong-minded hardeners {of the storm {of strap-ships}}} [SHIELDS > BATTLE > WARRIORS]. May {each craving-Þrór <= Óðinn> {of wave-suns}} [GOLD > MAN] who hears this poem, ask {the world-clasper} [= God] for mercy and compassion for me.

Mss: B(13v), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [1] þanns: þann B    [2] fetilkjóla: ‘fe[...]l kiosa’ B, ‘fe(ti)lkiosa’(?) 399a‑bˣ, ‘fæ[...](i)l kiosa’(?) BRydberg, ‘fe (ti)l kiosa’(?) BFJ    [6] þenna: so 399a‑bˣ, ‘þenn[...]’ B

Editions: Skj: Gamli kanóki, 2. Harmsól 64: AI, 571, BI, 564-5, Skald I, 274, NN §2114; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 33-4; Kempff 1867, 19, Rydberg 1907, 31-2, Black 1971, 298, Attwood 1996a, 238.

Notes: [2] fetilkjóla ‘of strap-ships’: Although the ms. is very badly worn, all previous eds concur that the second element is kjósa, and they follow the 399a-bˣ copyist in reconstructing the first element as fetil. Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s emendation to fetilkjóla (1844, 33 n. 81), which provides an expected aðalhending, is adopted here, though not without reservation. The interpretation of this cpd presents considerable difficulties. It is clear from the remainder of the man-kenning herðendr ‘hardeners’ and hríðar ‘of the storm’ (ll. 3-4), that an expression for a weapon of some kind is required. Fetill designates a strap or belt, and is often used specifically of a sword-belt or a shield-strap (Fritzner: fetill). Sveinbjörn Egilsson (1844, 33 n. 81) resolves this, by a transfer of meaning (pars pro toto), as a heiti for ‘sword’. Finnur Jónsson (LP: fetilhjól) regards the ms. reading as meaningless, and emends the second element of the cpd to fetilhjól ‘strap-wheel’, a shield-heiti. Kock (NN §2114) dismisses this emendation as providing an excess of alliteration on the <h>, interpreting fetilkjóll ‘strap-ship [SHIELD]’ (ON kjóll a kind of large ship, cognate with OE ceol). This he derives from a lost myth of the ship of the Norse god Ullr, possibly involving Ullr’s use of a shield as a boat. There is no doubt that several instances of the use of the phrase ‘Ullr’s ship’ as shield-kennings are listed in SnE (1998, I, 43 (verse 143/3 Ullar kjóll attributed to Eyvindr skáldaspillir, Eyv Lv 9I), 67 (Skjǫldr er ok kallaðr skip Ullar ‘a shield is also called Ullr’s ship’) and 69 (verse 236/2 Ullar skip, probably from ÞjóðA Frag 3/2II). Whether a word for ‘ship’, without explicit reference to the god Ullr, was an acceptable element in shield-kennings remains an open question, though the cpd fetilkjóll has been understood here to fit into this pattern. Louis-Jensen (2003, 317-18) doubts whether a ship-word without reference to Ullr can give a shield-kenning. She argues that the cpd is more likely to be a sword-kenning, and proposes emendation to fetilnjóla, a cpd in which the second element -njóli (found only in compounds in ON) has the basic sense of ‘stem, stalk’. — [2] Harmsól: Lit. ‘sorrow-sun’. The title of the poem draws together many of its central themes. Harmsól may be taken as a kenning for Christ, whose harmr ‘pain, injury’ is the subject of the poem’s central meditation, and who is apostrophised throughout the poem in kennings referring to his mastery of the weather and his lordship over the heavenly halls of the sun. At another level, the poem itself, as a public act of penance and a meditation on the grace of God, has acted as a ‘sun’, dissipating the clouds of the poet’s own harmr ‘sorrow’, his grief and shame at his own sinfulness. See further Paasche 1914a, 116-18. — [7] œski-Þrór ‘craving-Þrór’: That is, each man who craves wave-suns, i.e. gold. Þrór is listed as a heiti for Óðinn in Gylf (SnE 1982, 22). Although it occurs rather infrequently in man-kennings, (LP: Þrór), it is interesting to compare the warrior-kenning Þrós þingveljandi ‘decider of Þrór’s assembly’ in Pl 49/3-4.

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