Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gunnhildr konungamóðir (Gunnh)

10th century; volume 1; ed. R. D. Fulk;

Lausavísa (Lv) - 1

Skj info: Gunnhildr konungamóðir, Norsk. Det 10. årh. (AI, 61, BI, 54).

Skj poems:
Lausavísa

Gunnhildr (Gunnh) was the wife of Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ (d. c. 954; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume) and mother of several kings, including Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’, Erlingr, Guðrøðr, and Sigurðr slefa ‘Saliva’, hence her designation as konungamóðir ‘mother of kings’, and her sons’ designation as Gunnhildarsynir (alternating with Eiríkssynir; see Ættartal [Genealogy] II.c in ÍF 28). She is a figure of fascination and loathing in the sagas. According to Icelandic sources such as Hkr (ÍF 26, 135), she was of humble origin, the daughter of one Ǫzurr lafskegg ‘Wag-beard’, or Ǫzurr toti ‘Snout’ (?), from Hálogaland (Hålogaland) in Norway. Eiríkr, smitten by her beauty, won her by helping her to kill two Finnar (Saami) from whom she had learned sorcery. But in the less fanciful HN (MHN 105) she is called the daughter of the Danish king Gormr inn gamli ‘the Old’. In Fsk it is said that she was universally blamed for the ills suffered in Norway under her husband’s rule (ÍF 29, 76); a similar attitude is expressed in Ágr (ÍF 29, 7). Snorri portrays her as a scheming inciter in Hkr (ÍF 26, 135-6, 204-5) and (supposing Snorri is the author) as a Xanthippe in Egils saga (ÍF 2, 180-3); further scenes in Njáls saga (ÍF 12, 21), Laxdœla saga (ÍF 5, 52), and Egils saga (ÍF 2, 176) show her manipulating situations through seduction and sorcery. Whether she was in fact disliked in her own day or whether her legend simply attracted the venom so often directed against powerful women, it is impossible to say (see further Sigurður Nordal 1941; Olsen 1945b, 190-2, with references). Gunnhildr is credited with only the single helmingr below.

Lausavísa — Gunnh LvI

R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnhildr konungamóðir, Lausavísa’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 150.

 1 

Skj: Gunnhildr konungamóðir: Lausavísa (AI, 61, BI, 54); stanzas (if different): [v]

SkP info: I, 151

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Gunnh Lv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Gunnhildr konungamóðir, Lausavísa 1’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 151.

Hô- reið á bak bôru
borðhesti -kun vestan;
skǫrungr léta brim bíta
bǫrð, es gramr hefr Fjǫrðu.

Hôkun reið {borðhesti} vestan á bak bôru; skǫrungr léta bǫrð bíta brim, es gramr hefr Fjǫrðu.

Hákon rode {the plank-horse} [SHIP] from the west on the billow’s back; the champion did not let the ship’s stems bite the surf, for the prince [now] has Fjordane.

Mss: FskAˣ(33), 52ˣ(13v), 301ˣ(11v) (Fsk)

Readings: [2] vestan: festan all    [3] skǫrungr: ‘skonngr’ or ‘skonungr’ FskAˣ, ‘skonungr’ 52ˣ, 301ˣ

Editions: Skj: Gunnhildr konungamóðir, Lausavísa: AI, 61, BI, 54, Skald I, 34, NN §§249, 1926, 3046, 3224; Fsk 1902-3, 25 (ch. 6), ÍF 29, 75 (ch. 7).

Context: Eiríkr blóðøx tells Gunnhildr of a report he has heard that his brother Hákon góði has perished in a storm at sea while attempting to return to Norway from England, and thus he has no reason now to fear that Hákon will wrest Norway from his control. She replies with this stanza. The prose that follows asserts that Gunnhildr knew by her magic arts that Hákon was alive.

Notes: [1, 2] Hôkun ‘Hákon’: Hákon Haraldsson, later inn góði ‘the Good’. Hákon’s name is distributed between the lines using tmesis. Kock (NN §249) would emend to Hôr- … konr ‘high (i.e. famous) man’ in order to make the play on the name cleverer. (Fsk 1902-3 also adopts konr.) Olsen (1945a, 4) replies that this is unnecessary, as there are undoubted examples of tmesis in the corpus that do not involve further word-play, and r is not required by the hending, as the next word begins with r, and rhyme across word boundaries is not uncommon. — [1] bak ‘back’: Kock (NN §3224) maintains that this is a suffixless dat.; Olsen (1945a, 12-16) examines the slender evidence for similar forms among n. a-stems and rejects it. — [1] bôru ‘the billow’s’: Olsen (1945a, 8-9) sees this as a pun on the name of a daughter Bára of the sea-giant Ægir (SnE 1998, I, 36). — [3] skǫrungr ‘the champion’: A minor emendation from ms. ‘skonongr’ (so also Fsk 1902-3; ÍF 29). Skj B, followed by Skald, emends to konungr, but it is likelier that an uncommon word like skǫrungr would be corrupted to ‘skonongr’ than that a common one like konungr would be, especially since konungr would often have been abbreviated. In any case, at this point in his career Hákon was not a king, as the following prose in Fsk tells us, and it is difficult to see why Gunnhildr, of all people, should be imagined to have called him one. — [3-4] léta bǫrð bíta brim ‘did not let the ship’s stems bite the surf’: I.e. did not let the ship rest, like a horse pausing to graze. (a) This translation is in most respects congruent with the interpretation of Olsen (1945a, 6-7), which resolves the apparent contradiction in the helmingr (Hákon seemingly was and was not sailing his ship). Olsen perceives much word-play in the stanza (with, e.g., brim punning on Brimangr, the island of Bremangerlandet at the mouth of Nordfjord), and his interpretation involves the metaphor of a rider allowing his mount to graze upon completion of the journey (cf. Skí 15). In other contexts, bíta in connection with ships means ‘tack, beat (up against the wind)’ (ONP: bíta 10), but ‘graze upon’ is also a common meaning. The point of these lines is thus that Hákon did not even pause upon reaching Norway, but, far from leaving Eiríkr safe, he has already taken control of Fjordane. The reference to Gunnhildr’s magic arts in Fsk (see Context) is thus designed to explain how she knew this. (b) Skj B’s interpretation of these lines (similarly ÍF 29) takes brim as subject and bǫrð as object of bíta, hence ‘The king did not allow the surf to bite (swallow) the prow, since the prince has [landed in] Fjordane’. (c) Kock (NN §1926; Skald) reads, with the transcripts of FskA, lét á for léta, emending er (normalised es) to en, and interprets the lines to mean ‘The daring one let the prow bite the wave. He has now reached Fjordane’, but this assumes a construction bíta á which Olsen (1945a, 6-7) rejects as unparalleled. — [4] bǫrð ‘the ship’s stems’: Barð denotes all or part of a ship’s stem, and is used especially of the fore-stem (Jesch 2001a, 150). If LP: barð 3 is correct that there was a barð on both sides of the prow, pl. bǫrð could simply refer to the prow, and it is translated thus (stavnen) in Skj B. — [4] gramr ‘the prince’: Hákon: see Note to ll. 3-4. — [4] Fjǫrðu ‘Fjordane’: The region of Firðir (Fjordane) is in the westernmost part of Norway.

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