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Runic Dictionary

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Anonymous Lausavísur (Anon)

III. Lausavísur from AM 732 b 4° (732b) - 2

4: Lausavísur from AM 732 b 4° — Anon 732bIII

Jonathan Grove 2017, ‘ Anonymous, Lausavísur from AM 732 b 4°’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1247. <> (accessed 17 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2 

Skj: [Anonyme digte og vers XIV]: A. 10. Løse vers (AII, 463, BII, 495-6); stanzas (if different): 3

SkP info: III, 1247

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Two lausavísur (Anon 732b 1-2) are transmitted as marginal additions to fol. 8v of AM 732 b 4° (732b), an Icelandic learned miscellany of nine leaves. The main body of material in fols 1-8 was written in c. 1300-25. This section of the ms., at the end of which the two lausavísur are inserted, is a fragmentary copy of an encyclopedia written in the late twelfth century, other partial versions of which are known in GKS 1812 4° and AM 736 I & III 4° ( II, ccvii-ix; Clunies Ross and Simek 1993, 166). The surviving pages in 732b contain an assortment of material in Latin and Old Norse, including notes on computistics, cosmology, eschatology, geography and grammatical lore. The fragment preserves marginalia in several fourteenth-century hands (cf. III, 63-7; Finnur Jónsson 1886a), including not only Anon 732b 1-2, but also two anonymous Latin stanzas composed in skaldic metres (Anon Eccl 1-2VII). In sharp contrast to the Latin verses, which are sincere expressions of praise for a clerical colleague or colleagues composed in devout ecclesiastical language, Anon 732b 1-2 are lampoons sharing a tone of impudent mockery towards the men they portray. At the same time, they are encoded in ways that signal their connections to the scholarly environment to which the ms. context indicates they belong. Anon 732b 1 is literally a cryptogram; Anon 732b 2 is a macaronic in which the Old Norse is interspersed with Latin terms pronounced according to the rhythmical requirements of the metre and satisfying the demands of alliteration and internal rhyme.

The two stanzas were first formally edited by Finnur Jónsson (1886a, 187, 188, 191-2, 193-4). E. A. Kock proposed minor alterations to Finnur’s text of Anon 732b 1 in Skj B (Metr. §29; cf. Skald II, 271) – suggestions which prompted Finnur Jónsson (1934a, 59-60) to reprise his edition of the stanza with a single modification and a brief commentary vituperating Kock as a dilettante. Jón Helgason (1968, 58) later produced a revised text of Anon 732b 2 (see Ulset 1975, 130-2 for glossary and metrical notes). Aside from these attempts to establish the texts of the stanzas, neither has attracted much comment; see however NIyR IV, 129-32 and Poole (1982, 124) for brief references to Anon 732b 1 in connection with comparanda elsewhere in the skaldic corpus (Poole provides the only previous English translation of the stanza, from the Skj B-text). Note also the brief exchange on Anon 732b 2 from 1844 in the lively personal correspondence between Konráð Gíslason and the poet Jónas Hallgrímsson (Aðalgeir Kristjánsson 1984, 56, 66-7; Haukur Hannesson, Páll Valsson and Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson 1989, II, 197).

Anon 732b 1 is written in the same hand as Anon Eccl 2VII, which Finnur Jónsson (1886a, 187-8) initially identified as contemporary with the main text of fols 1-8; in Skj AII, 463 n., however, he dates the script more loosely as fourteenth-century. Anon 732b 2 is inserted directly after Anon 732b 1 in another fourteenth-century hand, originally dated by Finnur (1886a, 188) to c. 1350. Anon 732b 1 is written in a simple code also used in several of the other marginalia in 732b, including the prose text immediately preceding the stanza (Finnur Jónsson 1886a, 185-7, 190-1). Vowels, including the glides j and v, but not æ, are replaced in most cases by the succeeding consonants in the Icelandic alphabet. Exceptional un-coded forms are ‑i in krafti (ms. krapti) and kauði (ll. 5, 6), v in the abbreviation ‘var’ (l. 6), and - in slík (l. 7). Minor scribal errors occur in the ms. readings of both stanzas (votr (encoded as xptr) for votar in Anon 732b 1/4; percvssus in Anon 732b 2/2, probably for percussor), so neither represents a clean authorial witness. There are various signs of lateness in the deciphered forms in Anon 732b 1: -giætr for -gætr (l. 2), votar for vátar (l. 4), and gjöraz with the late middle-voice ending in ‑z (l. 7). In the case of ‑giætr and gjöraz the late spellings might simply reflect scribal modernisation, but the form votar, which embodies the late medieval sound-change > vo, is required by the metre (see Note below), indicating that the stanza in its present form was not composed before the mid-fourteenth century. There are no such datable features in Anon 732b 2, but there is little reason to suspect that it significantly predates its ms. context. Both stanzas have therefore been normalised to reflect fourteenth-century linguistic forms.

Anon 732b 1 mocks the rejection of a failed suitor. The stanza is composed in the minor metrical form referred to by Snorri Sturluson as hálfhnept ‘half-curtailed’ (SnSt Ht 77; SnE 2007, 32; see further the General Introduction in SkP I), in which each line has a monosyllabic final foot. The theme of male separation from a female object of desire is prominent in the few surviving remnants of verse in this metre, but in Anon 732b 1 the topic is made a matter of ridicule rather than first-person lament (see Bbreiðv Lv 6V (Eb 30) together with Hhárf Snædr 1I and the additional fragments re-organised as Ormr Woman; cf. Poole 1982 for discussion). It is impossible to tell whether the stanza was intended as an expression of friendly banter or dire insult, but it comes close to an outright accusation of unmanliness (ergi). There is a strong whiff of níð in the account of the referent’s failure to secure a sexual partnership and his ensuing physical and emotional abjection, and the encryption of the stanza in 732b may have been recommended by the hints of sexual insult detectable in some of its formulations.

Anon 732b 2, a comic stanza in hrynhent metre, offers ironic praise to a leatherworker. The production of cured leather from animal hides has always been a nasty and malodorous business, inviting mockery of those engaged in it. The stanza addresses the leatherworker in a series of satirical kenning-like constructions, employing as base-words ten titles and honorific or approbatory terms for secular magnates and office-holders, nine of which are Latin (pater ‘father’, princeps ‘prince, chief’, percussor ‘striker, killer’, rex ‘king’, dom[i]nus ‘lord’, praeses ‘protector’, Caesar ‘emperor’, magister ‘master’, dux ‘duke’). The historical identity and status of the individual addressed in the stanza – if he existed at all – is not recoverable, but the stanza extends a familiar pattern of satire in which male subjects are mocked for engaging in undignified menial tasks (cf. the patterns of abuse in KormǪ Lv 13V, 51V (Korm 14, 72), Bjhít Lv 3V (BjH 3), ÞKolb Lv 5V (BjH 19), and Ólhelg Lv 3/7-8I (see Note there); see also Sneglu-Halla þáttr ch. 6, ÍF 9, 275-80). For a further satirical reference to a leatherworker in skaldic poetry, see Sneglu-Halla þáttr ch. 3 (ÍF 9, 267-9) and the associated stanzas attributed to Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (ÞjóðA Lv 5-6II).

Consciously or unconsciously, Anon 732b 2 flouts the recommendation of Hávm 134/8-12 (NK 39), which advises that no wise youth should ever laugh at a grey-haired sage (þulr) because opt ór scǫrpum belg | scilin orð koma, | þeim er hangir með hám | oc scollir með scrám | oc váfir með vilmǫgom (see translation below). The final word in these lines is conventionally read as vílmǫgom, the dat. pl. of vílmǫgr ‘wretch’, producing an interpretation in which the þulr, identified as a ‘withered skin’ or ‘wrinkled skin bag’ (scǫrpum belg), wanders among other elderly men, designated as ‘hides’ (hám dat. pl. of f.), ‘skins’ (scrám dat. pl. of skrá) and ‘wretches’ (vílmǫgom) (Finnur Jónsson 1924b, 131-2). Eiríkur Magnússon (1887, 9-13; 1889) interpreted the last word as vilmǫgum, from a supposed *vilmagi ‘tripe-bag’, and allowed the stanza to locate wisdom in an old man who works amid the animal hides and calf-stomachs hanging in a medieval smoke-house: ‘often wise words come from a wrinkled skin, one that hangs with hides and swings with skins and sways with tripe-bags’ (see Evans 1986, 67, 129, and the detailed discussion in Tangherlini 1990, 92-6, which supports Eiríkur Magnússon’s solution). It has been suggested that, in this reading, Hávm 134 may allude to non-Christian initiation rituals, in which the þulr who literally dangles among flayed skins and animal intestines is no mere domestic worker, but a shaman undergoing a tortuous initiation rite (see Tangherlini 1990, 96-105). There is no indication, however, of any such ritual associations attaching to the individual satirised in Anon 732b 2.

The stanza lists eleven periphrases referring to the figure of the leatherworker. Although comparable to conventional kennings in structure and function, these appear to be ad hoc descriptive formulations rather than kennings in the strictest sense, and they arguably embody a studied detachment from the conventions of traditional vernacular poetry in the late-medieval scholarly setting in which the stanza was composed. Four of the poetic circumlocutions in the stanza consist of a Latin base-word qualified by a genitive determinant (percussor svartra pússa ‘smiter of black pouches’; rex ljóssa lifra ‘king of shining livers’; látprúðr domnus húða ‘courteous lord of hides’; Caesar leðrs ‘emperor of leather’), and these might be treated as regular kennings were it not for their use of Latin (for a comparable construction in Old Norse see for instance the smith-kenning neflangr konungr tangar ‘long-nosed king of tongs’ in ÞjóðA Lv 6/8II). Six of the other periphrases depart further from regularity in that they are articulated in apo koinou arrangements marked by the conjunction og ‘and’. In ll. 1 and 5, single determinants each qualify two separate base-words – one of which, in l. 5, is expressed in Old Norse rather than Latin (pater og princeps feiti ‘father and prince of fat’; praeses og lofðungr lýsis ‘protector and ruler of oil’); in l. 7 one base-word is provided with two alternative determinants (magister maks og leista ‘master of grease and [leather] footwear’). The final phrase (margsvinnr dux fyr skinnum ‘very wise duke of skins’), employs a preposition + dative construction in place of a genitive determinant.

Helgi Guðmundsson (2002b, 30-1) has suggested that Anon 732b 2 is based on the last Sapphic stanza of Horace’s Ode Iam satis terris nivis atque dirae, composed in honour of the emperor Augustus (Od. I, ii, 49-52): … hic magnostriumphos, | hic ames dici pater atque princeps, | neu sinas Medos equitare inultos, | te duce, Caesar ‘here may you love glorious triumphs, to be called father and prince, and not let the Medes ride unpunished, while you are our leader, O Caesar’. The nine Latin terms in the Icelandic stanza include all four honorifics addressed by Horace to the emperor: pater, princeps, dux and Caesar. These were all commonplace in medieval Latin, but the plausibility of a direct allusion is strengthened by the apparent echo of the alliterative phrase pater atque princeps ‘father and prince’ in the opening line of the macaronic, Pater ertu ok princeps feiti ‘You are the pater and princeps of fat’. Such an elevated literary connection might seem disorientating given the subject of the Icelandic stanza, but the reference – if that is what it is – would considerably enhance the ironic effect of a piece ostensibly addressed to a low-status drudge. The Horatian ode is notably overblown in its praise of Augustus, and it is possible that the Icelandic versifier partly intended to poke fun at his antique source while simultaneously aping the characteristic forms of vernacular poetic usage. The macaronic constitutes an engaging response to the reception of Classical literary models alongside native lore in the Icelandic scholarly milieu, and it seems to offer important evidence for the accessibility of Horatian material in some form in learned contexts in fourteenth-century Iceland.

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