This interface will soon cease to be publicly available. Use the new interface instead. Click here to switch over now.

Cookies on our website

We use cookies on this website, mainly to provide a secure browsing experience but also to collect statistics on how the website is used. You can find out more about the cookies we set, the information we store and how we use it on the cookies page.

Runic Dictionary

login: password: stay logged in: help




(subheadings only)

1. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages – a New Edition

The present volume is the first to be published of the nine planned volumes of Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages (SkP), although it is volume VII in the overall sequence. There will be eight volumes of texts, and a ninth containing indices and a general bibliography of medieval Scandinavian poetry. The aim of this new edition, which is set out in more detail in Wills et al. 2005 ( and in the General Introduction to the series, to appear in Volume I, is to provide a critical edition, with accompanying English translation and notes, of the corpus of Scandinavian poetry from the Middle Ages, excluding only the Elder Edda and closely related poetry.

The edition is based on a thorough assessment of all known manuscript evidence and on a review of previous editions and commentaries, including Finnur Jónsson’s Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning (Skj A and B), which has been the standard edition of the corpus since the early twentieth century. The interpretation of individual stanzas and the layout of the corpus differ in many instances from those of Skj, often reflecting a more conservative approach to the manuscript sources, and Skj references (titles, dates, page numbers) are provided throughout the present edition for purposes of comparison. SkP is available in book form and as an electronic edition. The electronic edition is fully searchable and includes both images of the base manuscript chosen by its editor for each poem or fragment and transcriptions of the base manuscript text, and, in some cases, of the text from other select manuscripts.

Whereas Finnur Jónsson was able to produce his edition single-handedly, current academic conditions make it difficult for one scholar to undertake such herculean tasks. This edition is thus the outcome of a group effort, directed by five General Editors: Margaret Clunies Ross, Kari Ellen Gade, Guðrún Nordal, Edith Marold and Diana Whaley. Editorial work on individual poems and fragments has been carried out by a consortium of Contributing Editors from the community of Old Norse scholars, who have specialist expertise in the field of skaldic poetry. These editors’ work is individually acknowledged in this and the other seven volumes of edited poetic texts. One of the General Editors is responsible for the overall supervision of each volume as Volume Editor. In the case of Volume VII the Volume Editor is Margaret Clunies Ross. Very occasionally, a Contributing Editor has maintained a different view on a particular editorial issue from the General Editors in concert; in such cases, both views are recorded.

Several research associates and research assistants have made a major contribution to the success of the project to date: Tarrin Wills, Emily Baynham and Melanie Heyworth in Sydney, Kate Heslop in both Sydney and Newcastle upon Tyne, Valgerður Erna Þorvaldsdóttir in Reykjavík and Lauren Goetting in Bloomington, Indiana. Tarrin Wills has been employed as a Research Associate on the project since its inception, and he has made a major, original contribution to it. He has been responsible for the design of the electronic edition, and has constructed the project’s database, improving it steadily over the years. It is this database that both allows for the generation of the electronic and print editions and will make it possible for the editors to produce additional resources from the database in future years, including, it is hoped, a new dictionary of the language of Old Norse poetry and a new analysis of kennings and kenning types.

2. The Corpus of Medieval Icelandic Christian Skaldic Poetry

Volume VII comprises the bulk of Icelandic skaldic poetry with Christian devotional subject-matter composed by poets between the mid-twelfth and the beginning of the fifteenth century. Almost all this verse is of Icelandic provenance, the sole probable exception being the single stanza, Lausavísa on Lawgiving (Anon Law), preserved in a manuscript of Norwegian legal documents. One distinguishing feature of much of the present corpus is the nature of its mode of preservation, which is generally in pre-Reformation compilations of religious devotional verse, outside a prose context. This feature, and other aspects of the manuscript record, are discussed in more detail below. Some medieval Icelandic Christian poetry, of considerable significance, also appears in Volume IV, Poetry on Icelandic History, especially a group of hagiographical poems which are likely to have been composed to support the case for the canonisation of Bishop Guðmundr Arason (1161-1237),[2] while other Christian verse is to be found in Volume III, Poetry from Treatises on Poetics,[3] and scattered throughout Volumes I and II, Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1 and 2.

Although the majority of Norwegian and Icelandic skaldic poems were composed – and certainly recorded in writing – after the introduction of Christianity to the West Norse area from c. 1000 AD, those poems that deal squarely with the common subjects of Christian doctrine and devotion do not occur in significant numbers before the middle of the twelfth century. There are several indicative fragments and poems, which date from the late tenth (if Hafgerðingadrápa ‘Tremendous Waves drápa’ (Anon HafgIV) can be so dated),[4] eleventh and early twelfth centuries, but the earliest skaldic poem that offers a sustained and direct treatment of a Christian subject is Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli ‘Light-beam’ (ESk Geisl), which can be firmly dated to the year 1153. This poem breaks new ground in the skaldic art in several ways: it is a completely preserved drápa (long poem with refrain) belonging to one of the highest traditional skaldic genres, the encomium of a dead ruler (erfidrápa), and yet it also adheres to the Christian genre of hagiography, its subject being the miracle-working royal saint, King Óláfr Haraldsson.[5] A common scholarly opinion is that Geisl was perceived in its own day as a model for contemporary or slightly later poets, to judge by verbal echoes in their works (Attwood 1996b).

The terminus ad quem for Christian skaldic poetry cannot be firmly drawn. A great deal of the poetry in this volume has been preserved in anthologies of late religious verse, made in the early sixteenth century, most likely in the north of Iceland, where resistance to the advent of Protestantism was strongest (Jón Helgason 1932; Stefán Karlsson 1970). These anthologies, which include AM 713 4° and AM 721 4°, contain religious poetry of varying date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, possibly in one case from the thirteenth (see Introduction to BrúðkaupsvísurVísur about a Wedding’, Anon Brúðv). In deciding which poems to include in this volume, the editors have been guided by linguistic and metrical evidence, internal to the poems, which would place them before 1400, while acknowledging that in many cases dating remains uncertain. In large part our selection coincides with that of Finnur Jónsson in Skj, retained in E. A. Kock’s Den norsk-isländska skjaldediktningen (Skald), though there are three additional items here, Brúðv and two Stanzas addressed to Fellow Ecclesiastics (Anon Eccl 1 and 2), and the chronological order of individual poems varies somewhat from theirs. In addition, we have sought to adopt a more consistent representation of the sound changes characteristic of the fourteenth century than that found in Skj B and Skald (see Section 9 below). We have also adopted a more conservative and consistent approach to the treatment of foreign words, mainly from Latin, in this poetry, compared with Finnur’s tendency to Icelandicise them and disregard Latin quantity, stress and spelling (see Section 8 below).


[2]    These are three long poems by the lawman Einarr Gilsson: Guðmundarkvæði (‘Poem about Bishop Guðmundr’) EGils GuðkvIV; ‘Vísur about Bishop Guðmundr’, EGils GuðvIV and Selkolluvísur (‘Vísur about Seal Head’) EGils SelvIV; Abbot Arngrímur Brandsson’s Guðmundardrápa (‘Drápa about Bishop Guðmundr’) Arngr GdIV and his Guðmundarkvæði (‘Poem about Bishop Guðmundr’) Arngr GuðkvIV; together with Abbot Árni Jónsson’s Guðmundardrápa (‘Drápa about Bishop Guðmundr’) Arni GdIVand his Lausavísur (Árni Lv).

[3]    The following poems with Christian subjects, mostly fragmentary, and from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, are found among the stanzas cited in treatises on poetics: Eilífr kúlnasveinn, Kristsdrápa (‘Drápa about Christ’) (Ekúl KristdrIII); Markús Skeggjason, Fragments (Mark FragIII); Eilífr Goðrúnarson, Fragment (Eil FragIII); Skapti Þóroddsson, Fragment (Skapti FragIII); Arnórr Þórðarson jarlaskáld, Fragment (Arn Frag 1III); Níkulás Bergsson, Kristsdrápa (‘Drápa about Christ’) (Ník KristdrIII); Óláfr Leggsson svartaskáld, Kristsdrápa (‘Drápa about Christ’) (Ólsv KristdrIII); Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld, Thomasdrápa (‘Drápa about S. Thomas Becket’ (Ólhv ThómdrIII); Þórbjǫrn dísarskáld, ‘Poem about a Saint’ (Þdís SaintIII); Anonymous, Morginsól (‘Morning Sun’) (Anon MorgIII); Anon (TGT) 24, 43, 46III; Anonymous, Bjúgarvísur (‘Bowing vísur’) (Anon BjúgvísIII), Anonymous, Máríuflokkr (‘Flokkr about Mary’) (Anon MflIII), Anonymous, Níkulásdrápa (‘Drápa about S. Nicholas’) (Anon NíkdrIII).

[4]    Jakob Benediktsson (1981) argued convincingly that a fragment of this hrynhent poem, quoted in versions of Landnámabók, and attributed there to a Hebridean Christian sailing to Greenland in an Icelandic boat, probably dates from the second half of C11th.

[5]    It is likely that Einarr was also conscious of the traditional skaldic role of critic of royal or aristocratic politics. Some of the barely veiled ad hominem and ad feminam criticism of deeds of the Norwegian royal house conveyed in Geisli’s miracle narratives strongly supports the impression that Einarr was continuing the tradition of plain speaking found in poems such as Sigvatr Þórðarson’s Bersǫglisvísur ‘Plain-speaking vísur’ (Sigv BervII).

3. Genres of Christian Skaldic Poetry

Like West Norse prose with Christian subjects (Kirby 1993), the majority of the poems in this volume fall into the common medieval categories of homiletic and hagiographical literature, the latter predominating. It is relatively easy to divide the extant corpus into these two categories, and to link poems within them to particular literary modes that express their subjects. There remain a small number of poems that fall outside these categories, but they can be accounted for in the context of either their obvious purpose or their sources of inspiration or both.

The Christian skaldic poems of homiletic or didactic kind are Gamli kanóki’s Harmsól ‘Sun of Sorrow’ (Gamlkan Has), Leiðarvísan ‘Way Guidance’ (Anon Leið), Líknarbraut ‘Way of Grace’ (Anon Líkn) and Lilja ‘Lily’ (Anon Lil), the title being a reference to the Virgin Mary.[6] The first two are from the second half of the twelfth century, while Líkn is usually dated to the thirteenth century and Lil to the fourteenth. Leið, Líkn and Lil[7] are anonymous works, but Has was composed by a named author, Gamli, a canon of Þykkvabœr monastery, founded in 1168. Has shows many thematic and stylistic connections with sermon literature and with the liturgy. Its main didactic purpose is to urge its hearers to repentance of their sins, citing exempla of famous penitents, like King David and Mary Magdalene, whom Christ forgave. However, the poet ranges over a broad sweep of Christian history, focussing on the life of Christ and his Passion, his Ascension and the Last Judgement. Leið, which shares many verbal and stylistic similarities with Has, is a versified version of the popular Christian text called the Sunday Letter, in which a letter, supposedly written by Christ, drops down from heaven to remind Christians of the religious importance of Sunday. In the central part of the drápa, the poet rehearses key events in Christian history that are supposed to have taken place on a Sunday. Like Has, Líkn ranges widely across Christian history, but its chief affective focus is upon Christ’s Passion and the virtues of the Cross. The poet has been strongly influenced by the Good Friday liturgy but he is in no way constrained by his Latin sources, adapting them skilfully to the conventions of skaldic poetry. Lil, the latest of these poems, a splendid and moving poem of Christian salvation history, has often been considered as the apogee of Christian skaldic verse. As its title indicates, the poet is strongly influenced by the medieval cult of the Virgin Mary.

The majority of poems in this volume belong to the Christian genre of hagiography, or lives of the saints and apostles, as do the poems in Volume IV in honour of Guðmundr Arason. Hagiography was probably the most popular medieval European narrative genre, and these Icelandic poems are closely related to both Latin and vernacular sources, Norwegian and Icelandic, most of them in prose. In addition, they draw upon a fund of familiar Christian knowledge, expressed through the liturgy and the standard vehicles for the Christian faith that all Christians were supposed to know, such as the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. A considerable sub-group in this category comprises poems devoted to the Virgin Mary, and reflects the growing importance of her cult in Iceland in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

It has been proposed (Cormack 2003) that the Church in Iceland was reluctant to use skaldic verse as a medium of devotion, on the basis of a supposed paucity of vernacular verse in honour of saints, particularly of the variety known as opus geminatum, ‘twinned work’, where both prose and more ornate poetic versions of a particular saint’s life are paired. The evidence of the present edition argues against this proposition, demonstrating the close links between Christian skaldic verse and other kinds of Christian literature, both in the vernacular and in Latin. While it is true that there are few clear examples of opus geminatum in the Old Icelandic corpus, there are many instances of close textual connections between vernacular prose versions of saints’ lives and their poetic counterparts, as can be seen from the notes to the edited texts of individual poems in this volume. A small number of poems have been preserved alongside related prose texts, but many more can be closely connected with extant prose legends of Norwegian and Icelandic provenance or to Latin sources.

There are two extant manuscripts whose contents reflect the practice of the opus geminatum and a third which suggests that possibility. There may once have been more. AM 649 a 4° of c. 1350-1400 contains a prose life of S. John in Icelandic (Jón4). Towards the end of the saga, the narrator quotes extracts from three skaldic poems in honour of S. John, JónsdrápaDrápa about S. John’ by Níkulás Bergsson (Ník Jóndr), Gamli kanóki’s Jónsdrápa (Gamlkan Jóndr) and Kolbeinn Tumason’s JónsvísurVísur about S. John’ (Kolb Jónv).[8] Although these poems are placed towards the end of the prose text, they do not form part of the hagiographic narrative of the apostle’s life, but draw attention to the piety and poetic talents of notable Icelanders of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. A note on fol. 48v indicates that this manuscript belonged to the church at Hof in Vatnsdalur which was dedicated to S. John. Another manuscript that contains both prose and poetry in honour of an apostle is AM 621 4° of c. 1450-1500, where a version of Pétrs saga postula (Pétr1) is followed by PétrsdrápaDrápa about S. Peter’ (Anon Pét), an anonymous verse narrative of the life of S. Peter which, as its editor in this volume, David McDougall, shows, used the prose saga as a source.

A third possible example of an originally twinned work may be the anonymous twelfth-century poem PlácitusdrápaDrápa about Plácitus’ (Anon Pl). It has survived in a single manuscript fragment of c. 1200, AM 673 b 4°. As Jonna Louis-Jensen has shown (1998, xcii-xciii), it was once part of a larger compilation that probably included another fragment, AM 673 a II 4°, which contains the remains of an Icelandic translation of the Physiologus and two sermons. She has also demonstrated by detailed comparison (1998 and this volume) that Pl is closely related to the A and C versions of Plácitus saga, and that it descends from the same translation from Latin into Icelandic as A and C. Thus it is possible that, in its original context, Pl was intended as the poetic twin of that prose translation.

The hagiographic poems may be divided into two kinds: narrative and non-narrative. The narrative poems usually follow a known prose saint’s life quite closely, though not necessarily in quite the same order as the prose sources, often embellishing the legend with plentiful and carefully worked kennings for the protagonists (see below). The narrative vitae include Pl, mentioned above, being the life of S. Eustace; Geisl, the life and miracles of S. Óláfr[9]; Pét; and KátrínardrápaDrápa about S. Catherine’ (Kálf Kátr), the life of S. Catherine of Alexandria by a certain Kálfr Hallsson. A special narrative group comprises anonymous poems that recount miracles of the Virgin Mary. These include Brúðv, MáríugrátrDrápa about the Lament of Mary’ (Anon Mgr), Vitnisvísur af Máríu ‘Testimonial Vísur about Mary’ (Anon Vitn), Máríuvísur I-IIIVísur about Mary I, II and III’ (Anon Mv I-III) and GyðingsvísurVísur about a Jew’ (Anon Gyð). All these Marian miracles can be traced to either Latin or vernacular prose legends or to both.

It has been argued (Lindow 1982, 117) that skaldic hagiographical poetry follows a generally narrative mode, but this is not always the case. A non-narrative group is identifiable as devotional and referential rather than fully narrative, with allusion being made to saints’ legends as something already known to the poets’ audiences. In this group are Allra postola minnisvísur ‘Celebratory Vísur about All the Apostles’ (Anon Alpost), Heilagra manna drápaDrápa about Holy Men’ (Anon Heil) and Heilagra meyja drápaDrápa about Holy Maidens’ (Anon Mey). AndréasdrápaDrápa about S. Andrew’ (Anon Andr) and the three poems in honour of S. John, Gamlkan Jóndr, Kolb Jónv and Ník Jóndr, are too fragmentary to allow one to decide whether they were fully narrative. The stanzas of these poems that have survived suggest a particular focus upon the apostle’s virginity, his closeness to the Virgin Mary and his status as Christ’s relative, in the case of S. John, and, in S. Andrew’s case, his martyrdom and reception into heaven. The twenty-six remaining stanzas of Heil and the complete Mey are catalogues of male and female saints, in which the poets devote one or two stanzas to the salient events of each saint’s life, a method that seems to assume the audience’s prior knowledge of their vitae. Alpost, rather like the Old English Fates of the Apostles, also devotes one stanza to each apostle, alluding to his mode of death, and concluding with a two-line refrain in the metre runhent added at the end of each eight-line stanza of dróttkvætt. The poet welcomes each apostle in turn into a convivial company (folk ‘people’12/9, sveit ‘company’13/9) gathered at a feast (í samkundu ‘at our feast’ 12/5), where he is honoured with a minni, or memorial cup or toast.

Two poems in this corpus stand out on account of their devotional and affective piety and are also notable for the complexity of their composers’ transformation of Latin liturgical images into Old Icelandic kennings or kenning-like circumlocutions. MáríudrápaDrápa about Mary’ (Anon Mdr) is a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary rather than a narrative of her life, comprising a versified catalogue of Marian epithets and prayers for her mediation and mercy. The poet succeeds in turning a good deal of the Latin or latinate vocabulary and phraseology of medieval Mariolatry, to be found particularly in the liturgy, into elaborate skaldic diction with considerable accuracy (cf. Schottmann 1973, 535-8 and see further below). In three places Mdr offers a direct translation of a specific liturgical text, stanzas 30-6 translating the antiphon for the Feast of the Assumption, Ave maris stella ‘Hail star of the sea’, stanzas 17-20 offering a rendition of the antiphon Gaude virgo gratiosa ‘Rejoice, gracious virgin’, sometimes attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), while stanza 26 presents a version of the Ave Maria ‘Hail Mary’. Another poem notable for its skilful rendition of Latin is Heilags anda drápaDrápa about the Holy Spirit’ (Anon Heildr), a prayer of praise to the Holy Spirit. There are numerous kenning-like periphrases for the Holy Spirit in this poem (see below), unparalleled elsewhere in the skaldic corpus. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson (1942) demonstrated that stanzas 11-16 are a direct translation of the Latin Pentecost hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, usually ascribed to Hrabanus Maurus (d. 856). It is worth noting that Heildr and Mdr, perhaps the most complex poems of the Christian skaldic corpus aside from Lilja, occur in the same manuscript, AM 757 a 4° (B), and may have been products of the same religious community.

Further evidence of the close relationship between Christian skaldic verse and Icelandic Latinity comes from the two Latin stanzas, Stanzas addressed to Fellow Ecclesiastics (Anon Eccl 1 and 2), which, though each has been previously published, have not been included before in any edition of Icelandic skaldic verse, presumably because they are in Latin. However, as their current editor, Jonathan Grove, indicates, they have been composed in the skaldic verse-forms of hrynhent and dróttkvætt respectively and so merit inclusion in an edition of Christian skaldic poetry. These stanzas, together with two anonymous secular lausavísur (Anon 732b 1-2III), one in coded Icelandic, the other in macaronic Latin and Icelandic, come from a learned miscellany manuscript AM 732 b 4° (c. 1300-25), and may well be the tip of an iceberg of Latin-influenced Icelandic clerical composition that has not been well preserved in the manuscript record (cf. Gottskálk Þ. Jensson 2003). This, and other evidence of the close connection between skaldic verse and Latin learning contained in this and other volumes of this edition, suggest that Guðrún Nordal’s 2001 hypothesis about the coexistence of training in skaldic versifying and Latin poetics in the medieval Icelandic educational system should be taken seriously as one part of the explanation for the relatively long life of Christian skaldic verse, which continued, though in metrically attenuated form, down to the Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century.

A final category of religious poetry included in this volume shows the influence of both the Christian Church and traditional Norse poetry that is at the same time gnomic and visionary. This traditional combination is most evident in Sólarljóð ‘Song of the Sun’ (Anon Sól), an anonymous poem of eighty-three stanzas in which a dead Christian man describes to his son a series of sometimes grotesque visions of this world and the next. To judge by the very large number of paper manuscripts in which Sól has survived, this poem continued to be very popular into the modern period in Iceland, and one reason for its popularity is probably that it was based firmly on traditional eddic poetry like Hávamál, where we also find a mixture of visionary and gnomic literary modes. Hugsvinnsmál ‘Sayings of the Wise-minded One’ (Anon Hsv), on the other hand, is firmly gnomic in mode, a fairly free Icelandic rendering of the popular Latin didactic work Disticha (or Dicta) Catonis ‘The Distichs of Cato’. Both these poems are in the ljóðaháttr (‘song form’) metre, as is usual with Old Norse didactic verse.[10]


[6]    The 8-line Lausavísa on Law-giving (Anon Law) is another didactic poem with a specific agenda: it sets out the desired qualities of a Christian law-giver, with reference to those of the biblical Moses.

[7]    Traditionally Lil has been regarded as the composition of a named author, Eysteinn Ásgrímsson, but see the Introduction to the present edition of the poem for a sceptical assessment of this claim.

[8]    On fol. 48v there is also a short Latin poem in honour of S. John; for the text, see Lehmann 1936-7 II, 118-19. The ms. is also unusual in having a faded illustration of S. John on fol. 1v.

[9]    The question of whether any written texts of Óláfr’s vita and miracles existed at the time when Einarr composed Geisl is a difficult one. Certainly, liturgical texts to commemorate Óláfr were written in the decades immediately after his death in 1030, and it is likely that written texts of at least some of the miracles came into being around the same time; see further Ordo Nidr., 124-5 and Chase 2005, 35-43.

[10]   Comparable in terms of its collection of proverbial wisdom is the thirteenth-century Orkney poem Málsháttakvæði ‘Proverb poem’ (Anon MhkvIII) in the verse-form runhent and, in respect of its proverbial aspect, Gunnlaugr Leifsson’s Merlínuspá ‘Prophecies of Merlin’ (GunnLeif Merl I and IIVIII) in fornyrðislag.

4. Manuscripts

As has already been mentioned, a number of the poems in this volume are found in compilations that form anthologies of late medieval religious poetry. Chief among these are AM 713 4° and AM 721 4°, both dating from the first half of the sixteenth century, and both probably compiled in the north of Iceland. Besides poetry in honour of saints and apostles, these manuscripts also contain a great deal of evidence for the cult of the Virgin Mary in Iceland, and include a number of poems recounting her miracles. Devotion to the Virgin seems to have been particularly strong in the north, and may have been a consequence of the dedication of the northern cathedral at Hólar to her. Several of the Marian miracle poems in 721 and/or 713 (Mey, Vitn and Mv I-III) also reveal a special devotion to S. Andrew, who is mentioned in stanza 2 of each poem, in a manner that has led scholars to suppose that this group of poems may have been composed in the same religious house or for the same church community.[11] S. Andrew is also the subject of the now fragmentary Andr (in AM 194 8°, dated 1387) and stanza 3 of Alpost.

Another significant collection of Christian skaldic poetry is found in the very poorly preserved but important manuscript AM 757 a 4° (B), of c. 1400, which also contains a text of the Third Grammatical Treatise (TGT) by Óláfr Þórðarson hvítaskáld and part of the Skáldskaparmál section of Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. Ms. B contains (in the following order) Heildr, Leið, Líkn, Has, Mdr and Gyð, the last-named a fragment of a Marian miracle poem in which the Virgin (as far as one can tell from the little that survives) frees a Christian from a Jew’s hard bargain over money. Another interesting late medieval Icelandic miscellany, containing a collection of prose homilies and the poems Leið and Hsv, is the fifteenth-century manuscript AM 624 4°.

Mention has already been made of poems appearing in manuscripts showing the probable influence of the medieval concept of the opus geminatum. AM 649 a 4°, with its various contents honouring S. John in image, prose narrative and devotional verse, is among the most interesting medieval Icelandic books of hagiographical kind, while the fragment AM 673 b 4°, containing Pl and dated c. 1200, is the earliest extant manuscript in which a skaldic poem has been preserved.

The material preservation of Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli offers a significantly different type of manuscript environment from the other Christian skaldic poems in Volume VII. Unlike them, Geisl had religious and political significance of great importance in both Norway and Iceland, and indeed beyond, as an official encomium of Norway’s first royal saint. This is reflected not only in the actual context of its preservation, in two major medieval compilations of historical sagas, Bergsbók, Holm perg 1 fol (Bb), and Flateyjarbók, GKS 1005 fol (Flat), both of the late fourteenth century, but also in the fact that the drápa is preserved entire in both manuscripts.[12] Furthermore, in Flat Geisl is given pride of place as the very first item in the compilation.


[11]   A possible contender would be a church such as Urðir in Svarfaðardalur in Eyjafjörður, which was dedicated to S. Mary and S. Andrew.

[12]   In Flat, three stanzas (31-3) are missing, but, as the present editor, Martin Chase demonstrates (see Note to Geisl stanza 31), the intention was to include them, the copyist making a careless mistake.

5. Poets and their Audiences

The majority of the twenty-eight Christian skaldic poems in this volume are anonymous, only six being by authors for whose names we have good medieval evidence.[13] This phenomenon contrasts with the situation of secular skaldic poetry, where named skalds are frequent. Chase (1993) has suggested that the anonymity of much Christian skaldic poetry may reflect the humility and self-effacement enjoined upon Christian clerics, especially those in monastic orders. Where we do know the poets’ names, we also know that in four cases those poets were clerics, the exception being Kolbeinn Tumason, a leading chieftain of the late twelfth and early thirteenth century.[14] This small sample supports the inferences one can draw on grounds such as manuscript context, subject matter and style, that most of the poetry in this volume is likely to have been composed by priests or monks, either for their fellow clergy or for mixed lay and clerical audiences. Given many of the poets’ attention to the minutiae of transforming liturgical phraseology into skaldic kennings, one suspects that the poets’ audiences must have appreciated this kind of artistry. Such audiences, one imagines, would be most likely found in elite secular households that particularly patronised skaldic verse and were the owners of proprietary churches to which they would have contributed books and other church property (Ordo Nidr., 40; cf. Guðrún Nordal 2001, 117-43 for thirteenth-century patrons of skalds) or in religious communities or in both.

Christian skaldic poetry with didactic or homiletic intent could have been read aloud to the poets’ audiences as an addition to vernacular sermons, embellishing their content in memorable and moving verse. Likewise, the poetic counterparts to prose saints’ lives would have served as sophisticated reworkings of vernacular legends for the education and entertainment of elite audiences. Those poems that assume a prior knowledge of hagiography might well have been composed by clerics for specific religious houses or secular patrons devoted to particular saints. The audience of Alpost, for example, might well have been a religious community that possessed sculpted images of the apostles or possibly paintings or relics of them, so that, as the poem was spoken, a toast could actually have been drunk to each apostle in turn incorporating a nod to the material image. The audiences of Heil and Mey may also have been able to see images of the saints whose passions were read out to them. In the case of Mey, it is likely that such a large number of verses in honour of holy virgins would have been of special importance to religious communities of women. It is also quite likely, in view of its subject matter, that Kálfr Hallsson’s Kátrínardrápa might also have been composed for religious women.[15]

One of the most likely contexts in which Christian skaldic poetry might have been read aloud would have been as an accompaniment to meals in religious, and especially monastic, communities. At meal times monks were supposed to be silent and to engage in religious contemplation. The reading of poetry in their own language, intricate though it is, would have provided appropriate substance for contemplation and reminded its audience of important Christian doctrine, especially if they were already familiar with vernacular prose lives of the saints. Sverrir Tómasson (2003) has suggested that some late skaldic verse, especially that modelled on Latin hymns, may even have been sung.


[13]   Two of the six are by the same author, Gamli kanóki.

[14]   The five named poets are Einarr Skúlason, Níkulás Bergsson, Gamli kanóki, Kolbeinn Tumason and Kálfr Hallsson (for their biographies, see the Introductions to ESk Geisl (Einarr’s biography is in Volume II), Ník Jóndr, Gamlkan Has, Kolb Jónv and Kálf Kátr). Although we do not know the name of the Leið poet, he is also likely to have been a cleric, because in st. 43 of his poem he thanks a certain noble priest by the name of Rúnolfr for helping him establish the foundation of his drápa. Rúnolfr’s identity is uncertain, but the two most likely candidates both moved in ecclesiastical circles (see Note to Leið 43/8).

[15]   The number of convents in medieval Iceland was small. Poetry devoted to female saints would have been especially favoured in nunneries like Kirkjubœr in the south, founded in 1186 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and Staðr on Reynisnes in the north, founded in 1296. Both were Benedictine foundations. As Cormack remarks (1994, 87), the first known Katrín in Iceland was an abbess of Staðr, consecrated in 1298, and a second woman of that name was elected abbess of the same foundation in 1330. Perhaps the poet Kálfr composed his Kátr in honour of the saint and one or other of these two abbesses.

6. History of Scholarship and Reception of Christian Skaldic Poetry

Old Icelandic devotional poetry in skaldic verse-forms has been preserved for the most part in late medieval and pre-Reformation Icelandic manuscript compilations, but it did not generally become an object of study and editorial attention until the early nineteenth century. However, significant transcriptions and editions of Christian skaldic verse were undertaken by Icelandic scholars before 1850. From this period come several important transcripts of medieval manuscripts that had already begun to deteriorate significantly by the first half of the nineteenth century. However, much greater deterioration has taken place over the last 150 years, so that modern editors, including those preparing this volume, have found it necessary to use readings recorded by the scribes of such manuscripts as Lbs. 444 4°ˣ (444ˣ), a bundle of various loose paper transcriptions, and JS 399 a-b 4°ˣ (399a-bˣ), a transcript of the Christian poems in B made in the mid-nineteenth century by Jón Sigurðsson (1811-79). B is now one of the most difficult of all medieval Icelandic manuscripts to read. Early editions of Christian poems are also helpful to the modern editor for their value in preserving readings that have disappeared. One of the earliest editors of Christian skaldic poetry was Sveinbjörn Egilsson (1791-1852). Notable are his editions of Plácitusdrápa from 1833 and his 1844 edition of four of the poems in B, Fjøgur gømul kvæði, which he prepared as a teaching text for the Latin school at Bessastaðir. Both these books were published by Viðey monastery.

Most of the major Icelandic scholars of the second half of the nineteenth century either edited or wrote about at least part of the corpus of Christian skaldic poetry, beginning with Sveinbjörn Egilsson and Konráð Gíslason. Non-Icelandic scholars, mainly from mainland Scandinavia and Germany, also became involved in the preparation of new editions of these poems in the last decades of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth century, often as doctoral dissertations. Most of the poems in Volume VII have been previously edited by one or more scholars active in the period 1870-1920. This period of editorial activity culminated in Finnur Jónsson’s Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning (Skj) of 1912-15, which was followed at some distance, both chronological and intellectual, by Ernst Albin Kock’s Notationes Norrœnæ (NN) of 1923-44 and his Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen (Skald) of 1946-50. Alongside these editions and studies of pre-1400 skaldic verse, one should also mention Jón Þorkelsson’s seminal 1888 study of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century poetry, much of it religious, and Jón Helgason’s edition of this pre-Reformation verse, published in 1936-8 in his two-volume Íslenzk miðaldakvæði (ÍM).

Studies of the literary character of Christian skaldic poetry and its sources in European Christian literature, often in Latin, began in earnest with Fredrik Paasche’s Kristendom og kvad: en studie i norrøn middelalder, first published in 1914 and reprinted in a collection of his essays in 1948. Another, somewhat later, study of these poems’ debt to Christian Latin learning was Wolfgang Lange’s Studien zur christlichen Dichtung der Nordgermanen (1958a). A third major study, devoted specifically to poetry in honour of the Virgin Mary, was Hans Schottmann’s Die isländische Mariendichtung of 1973. So far the literary and source study of Christian skaldic poetry had been of a general kind.

A new direction began in the 1970s, with the appearance of a group of doctoral dissertations from postgraduate students in various parts of the English-speaking world. These scholars undertook new editions of individual Christian poems which included theological and literary analysis as well as more strictly philological material. George Tate’s edition of Líknarbraut (1974) as a Cornell University doctoral dissertation was probably the first, and this was followed by Martin Chase’s University of Toronto edition and study of Geisli (1981) and, somewhat later, by Katrina Attwood’s 1996 University of Leeds PhD thesis (Attwood 1996a), an edition of the Christian poems in B. The 1998 publication of John Tucker’s edition of Plácidus saga, begun as an Oxford University B. Litt. thesis (1974), inspired Jonna Louis-Jensen (1998) to produce a companion edition of Plácitusdrápa. Alongside this new wave of editions from 1970-2000, most of them now revised for SkP, have appeared a relatively small number of articles exploring Christian skalds’ sources or their treatment of their material.

A great deal remains to be done to bring out the merits of Christian skaldic poetry. In comparison with pre-Christian skaldic verse and with secular poetry of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the poems in this volume remain relatively neglected and unappreciated. Their use of kennings and kenning-like periphrases has often been dismissed either as the tired reuse of old models or as the inappropriate application of traditional frames of reference to hagiographical and liturgical subject matter. Other dimensions of their stylistic repertoires remain unappreciated, except in the case of Lilja, which has received much wider attention from connoisseurs of religious poetry, both inside and outside Iceland, than any of the other poems in this volume. Few scholars and critics have recognised the subtlety with which Christian skalds transformed the complexities of Latin hymns and liturgical phrases into skaldic diction, nor have there been thoroughgoing comparisons of Christian poems with their likely prose sources, whether in Latin or the vernacular. Finally, a study of the different sub-genres of Christian skaldic verse, and their stylistic and narratological characteristics, has yet to be written.

7. Verse-forms and Diction of Christian Skaldic Verse

Dróttkvætt ‘court metre’, was the prestige verse-form of skaldic poetry from its emergence in the late ninth century, although other verse-forms were specific to particular genres, like kviðuháttr ‘poem metre’ for genealogical poetry or fornyrðislag ‘old story metre’ or ljóðaháttr ‘song metre’ for gnomic or didactic verse. Faulkes (SnE 1999, 75-88) gives a statistical analysis of the various metres employed in the whole poetic corpus. It is often stated (e.g. Chase 1993, 75) that Christian poets came to prefer the 8-syllable hrynhent (‘flowing metre’) verse-form over the 6-syllable dróttkvætt, especially in the fourteenth century, yet a reasonable number of the later poems in this volume continue to use dróttkvætt (e.g. Gyð, Líkn, Mdr, Mv I , Pét and Vitn). Three poems (Brúðv, Mv II and III) use the metre hálfhneppt ‘half curtailed’. There is also at least one case where a skald has used a more specialised metre for particular effects; the poet of Pét has used skjalfhent ‘shivering rhymed’ to convey, in staccato fashion, the ‘twelve strong things’ that S. Peter possessed. Hrynhent was almost certainly a development from dróttkvætt under the influence of Latin hymn measures (Kuhn 1983, 337-41). As such, it must have appealed to Christian clerics creating their own vernacular devotional poetry. The earliest, securely datable example of the hrynhent verse-form is Arnórr Þórðarson jarlaskáld’s Hrynhenda ‘Poem in hrynhent verse-form’ (Arn HrynII) of c. 1045, and the earliest example in the Volume VII corpus is Gamlkan Jóndr, from the second half of the twelfth century. Several fourteenth-century poems, such as Heil, Kátr, Lil and Mey, are in hrynhent.

In a number of the probably fourteenth-century poems, the verse-forms are notably irregular in their metrical observance, and they do not keep either correct line length or correct distribution of internal rhymes and alliteration. These have been regularised in cases of twelfth- and early thirteenth-century poems where scribal insertion of non-cliticised pronouns and other particles has resulted in an over-long line, but in poetry from after 1250 we have left the texts largely unmodified to reflect the growing lack of metrical consistency in these poems. It is also possible to observe that some poets’ knowledge of the conventions of kenning formation (see below) was slipping. This is most obvious in Brúðv, whose dating this edition has placed in the fourteenth century, though its sole earlier editor, Jón Helgason (ÍM II, 128), thought it could be of thirteenth-century date, and in Kálf Kátr, where, as Kirsten Wolf explains in notes to stanzas 14/3-4, 15/8, 33/2 and 45/7, the skald understood the poetic noun öglir ‘hawk’, to mean ‘snake’ and consequentially produced a number of defective gold-kennings.

A majority of the Christian skaldic poems are intact drápur ‘long poems with refrains’ or fragments thereof. Even some that have traditionally been entitled –vísur ‘verses’, a term indicating a lack of refrain (stef), are almost certainly the remains of drápur. An example is Heildr, which has previously been entitled Heilags anda vísur. Conversely, some poems conventionally titled –drápa (e.g. Andr) cannot be conclusively categorised as such for lack of evidence of a refrain. The predominance of drápur in this corpus places the Christian long poems beside the most prestigious secular encomia of the West Norse tradition in status and dignity, and this is fitting, given their role as vectors of Christian doctrine and devotion. Several of the poets quite self-consciously refer to the various parts of their drápur, using the technical terms stef, stefjabálkr, slœmr and upphaf (see List of Indigenous Terms for their distribution within the corpus). It is thus not surprising, given their poems’ elevated form, that Christian skalds often used elaborate skaldic diction within their drápur.

While the kenning (see below) remains the most common form of stylistic elevation in Christian skaldic poetry, other rhetorical strategies appear, particularly in fourteenth-century verse. Where skalds strive for emotional intensity and effect, they commonly employ complex patterns of repeated but varied rhetorical formulae, which are likely to have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by the new European poetical manuals of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Foote 1982). The poet of Lil used these techniques to great effect, and they appear in other late religious poems like Mey. Stanza 5 of Mey provides a good example of the new poetics:

Sæt Máría gjörði að gráta
gráti mædd í sonarins láti;
lát Júðanna fælði að fljóði;
fljóðið horfði á krossinn rjóðan.
Rjóðandi þá flaut og flóði
flóð táranna niðr um móður;
móðurbrjóstið strengt af stríði
stríðið bar sem engi síðan.

Prose order: Sæt Máría, mædd gráti, gjörði að gráta í láti sonarins; lát Júðanna fælði að fljóði; fljóðið horfði á rjóðan krossinn. Rjóðandi flóð táranna flaut og flóði þá niðr um móður; móðurbrjóstið, strengt af stríði, bar stríðið sem engi síðan.

Translation: Sweet Mary, overcome by weeping, cried at the death of the son; the conduct of the Jews mocked the woman; the woman looked at the red cross. The reddening stream of tears then flowed and streamed down the mother; the mother’s chest, tight from grief, bore the grief like no one since.

The poet uses a variety of the echoing verse-form that Snorri Sturluson termed iðurmæltr ‘repeatedly said’ (SnE 1999, 22) and his purpose is to express the affective piety associated in European medieval poetry generally with the motif of the Virgin Mary weeping at the foot of Christ’s cross. In combination with the native verse-form he uses repetitive word-play, a type of adnominatio, to suggest a rapid sequence of important events that changed the world.

Other kinds of stylistic and conceptual resources that are relatively common in medieval European devotional poetry appear quite rarely in Christian skaldic verse. It is clear from Óláfr Þórðarson’s final example of poetic usage in TGT, a stanza by Níkulás Bergsson (Ník KristdrIII), that typological symbolism was known in Iceland at least from the mid twelfth century (Louis-Jensen 1981), but it does not seem to have been very often used by skaldic poets, except in standard circumlocutions for the Virgin Mary modelled on Latin phrases. Number symbolism and numerological structuring devices also appear relatively rarely in the Christian skaldic corpus, principally in Lil and Líkn. The poet of Lil, which has 100 stanzas, doubtless expressed the notion of the perfection of Christian salvation history through his choice of that round number, although another system, based on a triangular pattern within the circular structure of the poem, has also been detected (Hill 1970, 564-5). It is likely that the poet of Líkn chose to compose 52 stanzas in order to reflect the number of weeks in the year. George Tate, in his notes to Líkn in this edition, gives details of the poet’s emphasis on the concept of time and the Christian year throughout the poem. Líkn 31-7 is also noteworthy for a series of elaborate exegetical figures comparing Christ’s cross to a set of symbols (key, flower, ship, ladder, bridge, scales and altar) which can be paralleled in Latin hymns of the Middle Ages. The poet of Sól also seems to play on a deliberate contrast between Christian and traditional Norse number symbolism.

By far the most obvious and frequent stylistic feature of Christian skaldic poetry is the kenning, characteristically a two-part nominal periphrasis for a noun referent, comprising a base-word (MIcel. stofnorð, German Grundwort) and a determinant (MIcel. kenniorð, German Bestimmung), which is either in the genitive case or the first element of a compound. A simple example is brjótr seima ‘breaker of gold wires’ [generous man] (Gamlkan Jóndr 1/6). The referent, given here in small capitals, is not actually mentioned in the text, but must be inferred from it and from the conventional conceptual system that underpins kenning semantics and was familiar to medieval Icelandic poets and their audiences. In this case, the modern reader needs to know that distributing (‘breaking’, ‘scattering’,‘wasting’) gold symbolises the virtue of generosity in a ruler or other important man, the actual referent in this instance being S. John. Another example of a simple kenning, with an obviously Christian referent, is geymir guðspjalls ‘guardian of the gospel’ [holy man] (Anon Heil 10/5). In this instance the referent is S. Dionysus. Kennings may be simple or they may include more than one referent, what Snorri Sturluson called tvíkent ‘twice modified’, if they contained two referents, or rekit ‘extended’, if there were more than two (SnE 1999, 5). An example of a rekit kenning with three referents (the direction of interpretation being indicated by >) is þollar hreina nausts humra ‘fir-trees of the reindeer of the boat-house of lobsters’ [sea > ships > seafarers] (Gamlkan Jóndr 2/7-8).

This last kenning is typical of the use of such resources of diction in much Christian skaldic verse in that conventional elements of the referential system evoke the conceptual world of Scandinavian material culture, in this case seafaring, rather than the world of Christian history and legend, even though the poet is dealing with a Christian subject and the kenning here refers to Christian men in general. In some cases, indeed, Christian skalds used mythological references to supernatural beings from Old Norse paganism to ornament their Christian kennings. A simple example is Kálfr Hallsson’s use of base-words for goddesses in kennings for S. Catherine, like Þrúðr falda ‘Þrúðr <goddess> of headdresses’ [woman] (Kátr 4/8), Þrúðr being the name of the god Þórr’s daughter in Norse myth, but in skaldic usage standing for any woman. Gamli, the poet of Has, likewise refers to Mary Magdalene as Vr víns ‘Vr <goddess> of wine’ (53/3-4), the woman-kenning in this case possibly alluding to Mary’s sensual nature. Although some such skaldic kennings probably use pagan mythological references for specific contextual effect, the majority of them are quite conventional and decorative, and can be compared to the use of classical allusions in vernacular European poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some modern scholars find it discordant to read kennings whose referents mean warriors or seafarers, when the poet is talking about the behaviour of Christian people in general, where holy women are called by the names of pagan goddesses or even valkyries, and where male saints and apostles are presented in terms appropriate to secular lords and distributors of treasure. However, there is no evidence that medieval Icelandic poets and their audiences saw any impropriety or discrepancy in these allusions. All the evidence indicates that they should be regarded as largely ornamental and in keeping with the high style of Christian skaldic drápur and other long poems.

There is in fact a good deal of variability among the poems in this volume in the extent to which they use kennings. In part, this reflects their age, the later poets tending to use fewer kennings, and those only of simple kind for a restricted range of referents: God, Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints and apostles, priests, Christian people and Heaven, the last-named usually embedded in a kenning for God or Christ, of the form ‘lord of the heavens’. To some extent this growing simplicity of diction reflects a deliberate turn away from skaldic complexity, expressed in a well-known declaration by the poet of Lil that he wants to avoid obscure archaisms (hulin fornyrðin 98/3), on the grounds that the Christian message was most effective when it was unencumbered by abstruse and oblique language. However, as the stanza from Mey quoted above and the whole of Lil itself amply demonstrate, such manifestos cannot be taken at face value. Although poetry like that exemplified in Mey 5 contains not a single kenning, it is rhetorically complex in a different way.

It is observable that several of the hagiographical narratives in the collection use a great many kennings, irrespective of their age, while few of the non-narrative group do so, aside from Heildr and Mdr, which are exceptional in the extent to which their poets generate calques on Latin periphrases for the Holy Spirit and the Virgin respectively, as will be discussed below. Three narrative poems that employ a wealth of kennings for their protagonists are Pl, which is amongst the earliest Christian skaldic drápur, Brúðv and Kátr, both probably of the fourteenth century. In each case, the poet is likely to have been working closely from a vernacular prose text and one can assume that his main purpose in using a great many kennings for the protagonists of the legends the poems narrate was a desire to produce a version that was more concentrated in its effect and more highly ornamented than their prose exemplars. Jonna Louis-Jensen’s detailed analysis (1998) of the skill with which the poet of Pl reworked the prose legend of Placitus supports this contention. It does not mean, however, that these poets, or indeed others working from the liturgy or homiletic literature, used only a poetic register. Several words and phrases that would have been neologisms in the general Icelandic vocabulary at or near the time the poems were composed appear for the first time or are among the earliest recorded usages in these poems.

The corpus of kennings from poetry on Christian subjects presents a number of challenges to the editor in terms of their identification, classification and interpretation. These difficulties have been masked to a considerable extent in the standard editions to date, because of the tendency of earlier editors not to break down kennings into their component parts when interpreting and translating them. A great many Christian skaldic kennings assert qualities and activities of their referents that are demonstrably true in terms of Christian doctrine. Thus mildingr himins ‘the king of heaven’ (Pét 5/4) is God, while móðir guðs ‘the mother of God’ (Pét 37/2) can only refer to the Virgin Mary. The referents of these kennings, of which there are very many in Volume 7, are marked in the Translation by lower case nouns, rather than small capitals, and preceded by an equals sign in square brackets. So the referent of Pét 5/4 mildingr himins appears as [= God].

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether a particular kenning refers to the Christian deity or a human ruler, because the types of kennings most commonly employed for both are the same. Snorri Sturluson shows his awareness of the role context plays in poetry of the Christian period in determining the referents of kennings for rulers: þar [in Geisl 16/5-8, which refers to both God and S. Óláfr] koma saman kenningar, ok verðr sá at skilja af stoð, er ræðr skáldskapinn, um hvárn kveðit er konunginn (SnE 1988 I, 78) ‘here kennings become ambiguous, and the person interpreting the poetry has to distinguish from the context which king is being referred to’ (Faulkes 1987, 127). Similarly, it is often difficult to decide whether kennings for the deity refer to the first or the second person of the Trinity because they frequently follow the same models (specific kennings for the Holy Spirit are few, see below, and are largely confined to Heildr). Meissner notes this difficulty regarding the persons of the Christian deity (369-71).

There are two points at issue here, one theological and the second to do with the metalanguage of skaldic poetry. The fact that many, but not all, kennings for the first two persons of the Trinity follow similar models depends upon the assumption that the Christian God in his role as Father is the primary expression of the Godhead, and that the person of Christ, Son of God, is, in theological terms, secondary. Skalds seem to have expressed this dogma by using the same models for both persons in many cases. However, they were also able to distinguish God the Father and God the Son where necessary. They did this in one of two ways. First, there is a small number of kennings that can only refer to Christ, represented as the Son of God (Meissner, 386). In this edition, such kenning-types are represented [= Christ] in the Translations. Much more commonly, poets indicate by context alone, or by an epithet qualifying the kenning proper, that a particular kenning, which could in other contexts refer to God the Father, must in fact refer to the Son. An example is Has 26/5-7, where the kenning þreknenninn sættandi ýta ‘powerful reconciler of men’, could refer to God but must here refer to Christ, as the immediate context includes a reference to his Passion. Such contextually-determined instances of kennings for God the Son are represented [= God (= Christ)] in the Translations, and are by far the most frequent type of kenning for Christ.

Leið 31 offers an interesting example of a skaldic poet’s ability to vary standard kenning types for the Christian deity. Here the poet has carefully chosen to refer to all three persons of the Trinity in the context of his treatment of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and Resurrection on Easter Sunday. As is often the case in skaldic practice, this anonymous skald refers to, but does not produce a kenning for, the Holy Spirit (heilagr andi 31/6). He makes his point about the indissolubility of the Trinity by stating that snjallastr faðir allra ‘the most valiant father of all’ (31/2) rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and that sonr hauðrs sólar ‘the son of the land of the sun’ (31/3-4) comforted men. By attributing the Resurrection to the Father, the Leið-poet shows theological and poetic subtlety, and by deliberately introducing a rather unusual kenning for the Son (the base-word being ‘son’ rather than the expected ‘ruler’), he underlines his awareness that it was God the Son who was resurrected and thereby made salvation possible for humanity.

A decision was made in 2005 by the General Editors of SkP to exclude from the count of kennings two-noun periphrases that have the form of kennings, but are actually translations into Icelandic of stereotyped Latin periphrases to be found in Christian texts (like the Bible, the liturgy, hymns, sequences and sermons), on the ground that they do not offer a model that can be varied, as the kenning proper can be. In other words, form and structure are not sufficient grounds for a phrase to be classified as a kenning; variability on a conventional model or base must also be demonstrably present. In the Translations and Notes to this edition, kenning-like periphrases of this kind – and there are many of them – have not been treated as kennings, even though they fulfil some of the functions of kennings.

Some examples of kenning-like periphrases for the major referents of Christian skaldic poetry will clarify this position. Among latinate periphrases for God and Christ are: Geisl 4/4 sunna réttlætis ‘sun of righteousness’ (Lat. sol justitiae), Mey 3/3 sólin riettlætis ‘the sun of justice’ (used there of Christ), also Árni Gd 13/2IV, used there of God; Pét 40/6 lífs brunnr ‘life’s well’ (used of Christ), modelled on Lat. fons vitae; Líkn 7/7-8 vísi vegs ‘king of glory’, probably referring to God rather than Christ (Lat. rex gloriae); Líkn 36/1 heims verð ‘world’s price’ (Lat. pretium saeculi); Líkn 37/1-2 ljóst lamb guðs ‘the radiant Lamb of God’ (Lat. agnus Dei), both referring to Christ. Periphrases for the Holy Spirit include Heildr 2/3, 4 af mætum brunni lífsins ‘from the worthy spring of life’ ; cf. Jer. II.13 fons aquae vitae (used in Jer. of God). The majority of kenning-like periphrases for the Holy Spirit in Heildr are clearly modelled on Latin phrases, especially in stanzas 11-16, which translate the hymn Veni creator spiritus. In all, there are no fewer than twenty-five such kenning-like periphrases for the Holy Spirit in Heildr but only a very small number in other skaldic poems. A possible periphrasis for Christ’s Cross is Líkn 42/2 sigrstoð ‘victory-post’, which may be calqued on Lat. trop(h)aeum ‘victory memorial’ (see further George Tate’s note to this line). This example, because its status is uncertain, has been treated as a ‘normal’ kenning.

There are many periphrases for the Virgin Mary modelled on Latin epithets, of which a selection are given here. Geisl 2/5, 8, 7 frá bjartri stjǫrnu flœðar ‘[Christ was born] from the bright star of the flood’ (Lat. stella maris ‘star of the sea’). This is the only example of such an imitation of a very popular Mary-epithet, except for Mdr 3/4 and 30/2 stiarna siovar ‘star of the sea’. In Mdr there are many such latinate epithets for the Virgin, including, at 10/1, ker kosta ‘vessel of virtues’ (Lat. vas honoris). We also find periphrases like Has 61/1-2 blíðr hǫfðingi snóta ‘gentle chief of women’ (cf. Lat. regina virginum ‘queen of virgins’); cf. Mdr 5/2 and Pét 5/8 konungr vífa ‘king of women’. Also, but with significant embellishment from traditional kenning-types so that they are not simply calques on Latin phrases, there are examples like Has 60/2-4 alskírt hǫfuðmusteri ens hæsta hildings himins birti ‘altogether brilliant chief temple of the highest prince of the brightness of heaven’ (Lat. templum domini ‘temple of the Lord’) and enn glæsti kastali grams hauðrs glyggs ‘the beautiful fortress of the prince of the land of the wind’ (Has 60/5, 7-8). Only the second elements of these periphrases have been treated as kennings.

The influence of Latin phrases is also perceptible in periphrases for heaven and holy men. Geisl 63/8 offers friðarsýn ‘vision of peace’, i.e. ‘the Heavenly Jerusalem’. The compound is a direct translation of Lat. visio pacis ‘vision of peace’, which was believed to be the meaning of the name Jerusalem. This etymology was well known in the Middle Ages and appears frequently in theological writings and in hymns, the most famous being Urbs beata Hierusalem, dicta pacis visio (AH 51:119; Ordo Nidr., 292-3, 335-6). The image of the martyrs and confessors living in endless heavenly bliss, ultimately derived from Scripture (Rev. VII.13-17, XXI.3-4, etc.), is a commonplace in hymns for the feasts of saints, and is probably reflected in Ník Jóndr 2/3 himna sýn ‘a vision of the heavens’. The phrase váttr dýrðar ‘witness of glory’ is a periphrasis for a martyr in kenning form, which expands the sense of the Latin, ultimately Greek, noun. It occurs in Pl 26/3 (referring to Plácitus), while in Geisl 62/3 it is used of S. Óláfr. In Andr 2/1 yfirpostulinn ástar ‘chief apostle of love’ refers to Andrew, though the Lat. apostolus charitatis ‘apostle of love’, usually refers to either Paul or John; other periphrastic references to Andrew are Mey 1/7-8 æzta lífi yfirpostulann ‘the most outstanding chief Apostle’ and Mv I 2/1 inn æsti ástvin guðs ‘noblest bosom friend of God’.


[16] There is a full discussion of skaldic verse-forms and formal structures in the Introduction to the whole edition in Volume 1. Individual deviations and irregularities are mentioned in Notes to specific poems and stanzas.

Martin Chase (2003, 2005a, 21-7 and 124 and his edition of Geisl in this volume) has argued that Einarr Skúlason uses typology in Geisl stanzas 1-6 to identify S. Óláfr with Christ. The poet of Pl used a kind of typology when he compared Plácitus, who suffered many privations as tests of his Christian faith, to the Old Testament figure Jób inn gamli ‘Job the old’ (Pl 1/8 and 26/8). The Plácitus legend also depends on an equivalence between Christ and the hart that appeared to Plácitus while out hunting, an analogy well known to medieval Christians through the Physiologus tradition (see Note to Pl 7/7-8).

For a fuller discusssion of the kenning system of skaldic poetry, see Introduction to the whole edition, SkP, in Volume I.

There are a number of interesting examples, some from the twelfth-century drápur: Leið has manna ‘manna’ 20/7; krisma ‘chrism’ 24/6; Has has paradís ‘paradise’ 24/6. Of the later poems, Alpost has stím ‘tumult, din’ 5/6, plagaz ‘to devote oneself’ 18/8 (also Mey 55/7) and frómi, 3rd pers. sg. pres. subj, of fróma ‘to celebrate, honour’ 12/9; Brúðv has fráleitr ‘ridiculous’ 23/6 and var ‘shelter’ 30/3; Lil has margbrugðinn, ‘often changed, shifty’, 16/6 and auðgint ‘easily beguiled’ 18/1; Mgr has edik ‘vinegar’ 30/8.

They may be repeated without change, however, by the same or different poets, as some of the examples below demonstrate.

8. The Treatment of Foreign Learned Words and Foreign Personal Names in Skaldic Poetry

Christian skaldic poetry contains a wealth of learned foreign words and personal names, mostly Latin, or latinised Greek and Hebrew, which have been treated in a highly divergent and idiosyncratic manner by earlier editors. Whereas such words in Old English have been subject to several studies (see Sievers 1885, 492-3; Pogatscher 1888; Sievers 1893, 124-7; Pyles 1943; Campbell 1959, §§493-564, esp. §§545-64), scant attention has been paid to the spelling, stress and quantity of learned foreign words in Old Norse poetry. In an 1894 article, most likely prompted by Pogatscher’s (1888) extensive study of Old English and Larsson’s (1893) examination of the placement of accents in the Icelandic Homily Book (HómÍsl), Finnur Jónsson attempted to establish rules for accentuation and stress in Latin and Hebrew words in Old Norse poetry. His discussion suffers from an imperfect knowledge of Old Norse metrics and prosody, but the principles he formulated became normative in his editions of Christian poetry in Skj B. In Skald, Kock at first followed Finnur’s spelling and accentuation, and only in the later stages of his editing (of Mgr and Mey) did he begin to correct Finnur’s erroneous orthographic practices (see NN §§2680, 2970).

For the purposes of the present edition, we have reexamined the entire corpus of Latin and latinised Greek and Hebrew names in skaldic poetry from the ninth to the fourteenth century, and we have sought to establish rules for the distribution of stress and quantity that will be outlined in some detail below. The new guidelines are based on the metrical treatment of foreign words in dróttkvætt, hrynhent, fornyrðislag and hálfhneppt, while paying close attention to Old Norse prosody as well as Latin stress and quantity. Because the dróttkvætt and hrynhent metres are syllable-counting and contain internal rhymes, the metrical types are easier to identify than in Old English alliterative poetry. The placement and quality of the internal rhymes are also very helpful for establishing guidelines for the treatment of the foreign words and names (for the metrical patterns of Old Norse poetry, see Gade 1995, 73-172).

In Old Norse poetry, the stress patterns in Latin words and phrases tend to agree with the stress patterns of such words in Old English alliterative poetry (see Sievers 1885, 492-3; Pogatscher 1888; Sievers 1893, 124-7; Pyles 1943; Campbell 1959, §§545-64) while adhering to the rules that govern Old Norse metres. In other words, the words are treated as learned loanwords following native stress patterns (see Pyles 1943, 894). Full stress falls on the first syllable of a word, thus obliterating the Latin stress on the penultimate or antepenultimate in trisyllabic, tetrasyllabic and pentasyllabic words. But the syllables that received stress in Latin are usually also stressed in Old Norse (for a detailed discussion of Latin stress and quantity, see Allen 1989, 83-94).

Consider the following example (fully stressed syllables are underlined): Heil 11/2 Dómiciánus ‘Domitian’. As far as fully stressed syllables are concerned, they must be metrically long (see Sievers 1885, 492; Pogatscher 1888, 21-4; Pyles 1943, 895-9). In Old Norse poetry, a syllable comprising three or more morae (a long vowel plus one or more consonants or a short vowel plus two or more consonants) is long and can occupy a metrically long, stressed position (see Kuhn 1983, 53-5; Gade 1995, 28-34): Mey 26/1 Ágáða ‘Agatha’, Mgr 29/6 Longínus ‘Longinus’. In the present edition length is therefore assigned to a syllable occupying metrically long, stressed positions regardless of the Latin quantity (hence Plácitus and not Placitus). However, a metrically long, stressed position can also be filled by two short syllables (resolution, see Kuhn 1983, 55-6; Gade 1995, 60-6) when the metre demands this and the corresponding Latin quantity in the first of the resolved syllables is short: Mey 56/5 Benedictus ‘Benedict’, Heil 11/4 Elutéríum ‘Eleutherius’. In the excerpted corpus of Latin names and words, there are also instances in which a short syllable can resolve with a long syllable and fill a metrically long position: Mgr 12/6 Pilátus ‘Pilate’, Mgr 21/2 korónu ‘crown’, Mgr 7/2 Heródes ‘Herod’, Pét 33/5 Saphíra ‘Sapphira’ (for indigenous examples and their absence in early poetry, see Kuhn 1929, 184-214). Under reduced stress, two short syllables can occupy two metrical positions: Pl 6/6 Ágápitus ‘Agapitus’, Pl 11/6 Plácitus ‘Placitus’, and, in a metrically subordinate position, Leið 18/8 pharaóni ‘Pharaoh’. Unstressed syllables regularly occupy dips: Mey 26/1 Ágáða ‘Agatha’, Mgr 29/6 Longínus ‘Longinus’. But a dip can also be filled by two short syllables (neutralisation; see Gade 1995, 60-6): Mey 52/1 Barbara ‘Barbara’, Mey 50/3 Brígiða ‘Bridget’.

Latin names with hiatus (two consecutive vowels) present a special problem. In Old Norse, no syllables can consist of a sequence of two orthographic short vowels unless the two vowels are part of a diphthong. Words containing the sequence of a long vowel plus a short vowel of the type glóa ‘glow’ and búa ‘dwell, occupy, prepare’ are treated metrically like such short disyllabic words as fara ‘go, travel’ and vita ‘know’ (see Kuhn 1983, 54; Gade 1995, 29-34). In that respect, Old Norse hiatus words can occupy a lift under resolution and a dip under neutralisation, or they can be treated as disyllabic under secondary stress. The Latin names in our corpus that contain the sequence of two short vowels are treated metrically like indigenous Old Norse words with the sequence long vowel plus short vowel, and are therefore reproduced as such, that is, by assigning length to the first vowel (Heil 13/2 Díonísíus ‘Dionysius’). The Latin endings -eas, -eus, -ia, -ias, -ius are treated uniformly as Old Norse hiatus words, regardless of Latin stress or lack thereof, and they are given as -éas, -éus, -ía, -ías, -íus respectively. The examples below illustrate the assignment of length and the metrical treatment of such names.

1.     Resolution under full stress:
6/8 Þéopistus trú misti ‘Theopistus faith lost’

2.     Non-resolution under reduced stress:
13/1 heldr Matthías vildi ‘rather Matthew wanted’

3.     Neutralisation under lack of stress:
39/3 Lúcía stóð í loganum blessuð ‘Lucia stood in the flame blessed’.

As in Old English (and Gothic), the syllabic [i:] in such names as Máría ‘Mary’ may have developed into the glide [j] when the trisyllabic name is treated as metrically disyllabic (Márja rather than Máría). That is certainly the case when the name occurs in the cadence in dróttkvætt or hrynhent lines, as in Mgr 19/4 sárin dróttins blessuð Máría ‘(the) wounds of (the) Lord blessed Mary’. Because it usually cannot be ascertained whether <ía> is treated as a resolved disyllabic ending or as [ja] (except in line-final position in the cadence), the present edition does not attempt to make a distinction between syllabic [i] and the glide [j], but retains the manuscript spellings with a syllabic vowel.

Multisyllabic names consisting of the sequence of a short vowel followed by a long vowel are not treated as hiatus words in the poetic corpus. Therefore names like Díocleciánus ‘Diocletian’ (Dío - cleci - ánus, with resolution in metrical position one and neutralisation in metrical position two) and Adriánus ‘Adrian’ (Adri - ánus) are both tetrasyllabic from a metrical point of view: Heil 26/3 Díocleciánus dauða nýjan ‘Diocletian new death’, Pl 58/7 andrán Adriánus ‘life-deprivation Adrian’. In the rare event that a Latin word contains the sequence of two vowels occupying two metrical positions (fully stressed and non-stressed), length is assigned to both vowels: Mgr 40/2 pátris déí formið gráti ‘of the son of God perform with weeping’. That is also the case when such names as Síón ‘Zion’ occupy two fully stressed positions: Mv III, 20/7 að sönnu las hann Síóns ‘indeed read he Zion’s’ (hálfhneppt metre).

In disyllabic latinised Hebrew names it is impossible to establish the length of the second syllable unless length can be determined by metrical position or by internal rhyme. Sometimes the length assignment is straightforward, as in Ádám ‘Adam’ (Lil 64/4 forn Ádám við Jésú kvámu ‘old Adam from Jesus’ arrival’), Dávíð ‘David’ (Has 48/2 Dávíð konungr síðan ‘David the king later’) and Ebrón ‘Hebron’ (Pét 20/8 Ebrón Móisi þjónar ‘Hebron Moses serves’). But the majority of such names contain a second syllable which is unstressed and occupies a dip. Following Larsson (1893), Finnur Jónsson (1894; Skj B) consistently assigned length to the second syllable in such names as Tómás ‘Thomas’, Énók ‘Enoch’, etc., whereas Kock (Skald) did not. In the present edition, length is assigned to the second syllable in disyllabic Hebrew names when warranted by internal rhyme or metre. In the absence of metrical evidence, we adhere to the Latin and Greek quantities: Énoch, Jácob, Jósép, Símón; but Jónas, Júdas, Tómas.

Some Latin and Hebrew names pose special problems for the assignment of stress and quantity because they are treated differently in different metrical environments or they are metrically ambivalent. The Hebrew name Moyses, for example (Latin Mōȳsēs, usually spelled in the Old Norse manuscripts with the diphthongs <oi> or <oy>), apparently could have length on either the first or the second element of <oi> / <oy> or on both. Consider the following examples: Pét 20/8 Ebrón Móisi þjónar ‘Hebron Moses serves’ (with resolution in metrical position three), Leið 18/2 lagavísum Móísi ‘law-wise Moses’ (treated as trisyllabic with secondary stress on - and primary stress and internal rhyme on -ís). The stress patterns in such names as Simonis ‘Simon’s’ and Jacobus ‘Jacob’ are also difficult to determine: Mey 8/8 góðr og mildur Símonis/Simónis bróðir ‘good and generous Simon’s brother’, Mey 8/5 mengið nefnir Jácobum/Jacóbum yngra ‘(the) crowd mentions Jacob (the) younger’, Mey 9/8 mektar sannr og Jácobus/Jacóbus annar ‘power-true and Jacob (the) second’. In all three instances the metre allows for neutralisation in metrical position six (-onis, -obis) or for resolution in metrical position five (Simón-, Jacób-). In these cases, we observe the Latin stress pattern with stress on the penultimate syllable (Simónis, Jacóbus, Jacóbum).

As far as the spelling of foreign names is concerned, earlier editions (in particular Skj B and Skald) frequently icelandicise the Latin spellings found in the manuscripts (e.g. Jóakíms or Jóakims for ‘ioachim’, Káfarnáum for ‘Kapharnaum’, Kéfás or Kéfas for ‘cephas’, etc.). In the present edition we attempt to reproduce the Latin orthography in the manuscripts more faithfully, but we assign accents to show the distribution of stress and length (see the discussion above). Because the orthographic representations of Latin and latinised Greek and Hebrew words were conservative (and the pronunciation must have been conservative as well), we do not subject such words to the same rules of normalisation as we apply to the indigenous Icelandic vocabulary. For example, although <é> ([e:]) was certainly diphthongised during the fourteenth century, there is no evidence that this vowel was diphthongised in such names as Pétrus ‘Peter’ and Andréas ‘Andrew’. Rather than subjecting these names to whole-scale normalisation (Pietrus, Andrieas), we retain the forms used in the manuscripts. New forms will be recorded in the texts and commented upon in the notes only when warranted by strong phonological evidence (e.g. internal rhymes).

9. Normalisation of Fourteenth-Century Poetry

The orthographic representations of fourteenth-century poems in Skj B and Skald are inconsistent and fail to reflect sound changes that are characteristic of this period. For example, even though ǫ and ø merged to ö in the thirteenth century, both editions consistently render the new phoneme as <ǫ> rather than as <ö>. Other changes, like the diphthongisation of é (é > ie; see below), are not reflected in the orthography at all. Likewise, syntactic innovations, such as the frequent omission of the relative particle er, are silently emended in Skj B and Skald to correspond with earlier practice. In the present edition we have adopted a series of fourteenth-century orthographic normalisations listed below (see A.), while syntactic and morphological idiosyncrasies characteristic of the fourteenth century (see B.) are left in the Text without comment.

None of the late Christian poems can be dated with any certainty, and these poems represent different stages of phonetic development. For example, progressive v-umlaut (- > - > vo-; see ANG §86; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xi-xii; Bandle 1956, 41) is occasionally reflected in Vitn (8/8, 16/2), Mv II (8/2, 14/6), Alpost (8/8), and Mey (47/8, 54/6), but not in any other fourteenth-century poem. Likewise, the quantity of <o> in internal rhymes in such words as dróttinn ‘lord’ varies significantly from poem to poem (dróttinn or drottinn; see Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, 6), and sometimes both [o:] and [o] are attested within the same poem (e.g. Alpost 4/2, 8/8). Vowel quantity was unstable during this period, and our practice is therefore conservative: progressive v-umlaut (-), for example, is only represented orthographically when it can be ensured by internal rhyme. The spelling of such words as dróttinn ‘lord’ (dróttinn or drottinn; see above) is left to the individual editor and justified in the Introduction or Notes. We also adhere to a conservative practice as far as desyllabification of -r is concerned (-r > -ur, see below), and desyllabified forms are only introduced when required by the metre.

A few observations should also be made here on the two ljóðaháttr poems in this volume, Sól and Hsv, as they present some special difficulties. Although it is not possible to date either poem with certainty, we have made an editorial decision to regard them as 1250+, but not post-1300. Thus, they have been normalised to later thirteenth- rather than fourteenth-century standards. However, they are mentioned here because many of the problems associated with editing them derive from the very late date of the manuscripts in which they have been preserved and from the probability that fourteenth-century and later scribes were unaware of the finer points of ljóðaháttr metre. Our policy with Sól and Hsv has been to leave later features of syntax and word order, such as non-cliticised pronouns and the negative adverb eigi ‘not’, unnormalised and unnoted, except where their presence is contra-indicated on metrical grounds, generally where they appear at the ends of lines. In such cases, if a metrically correct reading or word order is given in one or more of the subsidiary manuscripts, but not in the main one, the metrically correct reading has been chosen. In cases where none of the manuscripts yields a metrically correct reading, we do not emend conjecturally but point out the deficiency in the notes. Our practice thus differs greatly from that of Skj and Skald, both of which attempt to make the ljóðaháttr poems correspond more closely to fornyrðislag by deleting eigi and replacing it with the cliticised verbal negation –at, and by silently omitting pronouns, cliticised or non-cliticised, that occur in extended dips. Some of the more extreme differences between our texts and those produced by Finnur Jónsson and Kock are pointed out in the notes to individual stanzas.

When the texts of Skj B and Skald are referred to in the notes, the orthography of Finnur and Kock is retained, that is, we do not subject their texts to our principles of normalisation. Hence the notes often contain two different systems of orthographic representation (e.g. og and ok ‘and’, mjög and mjǫk ‘much’, mier and mér ‘to me’ etc.). This mixture of forms is unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Below is an outline of the standard normalisations (A.) adopted in the present edition and a list of fourteenth-century phonological, morphological and syntactic features (B.) which occur occasionally in the poems. Such features are retained in the texts without comment in the notes to individual stanzas.

Standard Normalisations


Vowels in stressed syllables

é > ie (ANG §103; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xiv): hér > hier ‘here’

e > ie | k, g, h– (ANG §103): ketill > kietill ‘kettle’, gefa > giefa ‘to give’, hekk > hiekk ‘hung’

e > ei | –ng (ANG §102; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xii): lengi > leingi ‘long’ (adv.)

ö > au | –ng, nk (ANG §105): söngr > saungr ‘song’


ð > d | [+short syllable] l, n, m– (ANG §238, 1b): talða > talda ‘counted, told’

ð > d | b, lf, lg, ng, rg– (ANG §238, 1b): skelfða > skelfda ‘trembled’

pt > ft (ANG §247): lopt > loft ‘air’

t, k > ð, g | [- stress]–# (ANG §248; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xxvii, xxxii): ek > eg ‘I’, at > ‘that’

rl > ll (ANG §272.1; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xxx): karl > kall ‘man’

rs > ss (ANG §272.3; Björn K. Þórólfsson 1925, xxx): vers > vess ‘verse’

rst > st (ANG §272.3): skýrst > skýst ‘most clear’

ts < z > > ss (ANG §274.2): Gizurr > Gissurr ‘Gissur’

gn– > n– (ANG §290): gneisti > neisti ‘spark’


Mediopassive or middle voice: –sk > –z (ANG §544; see also Kjartan G. Ottóson 1992): kallask > kallaz ‘to be called’.

Desyllabification (only when justified by metre): –r > –ur (ANG §161b; see also Jón Þorkelsson 1863; Stefán Karlsson 1964): hestr > hestur ‘horse’

Occasional Syntactic, Morphological, and Phonological Peculiarities

Loss of the relative particle er in the combination demonstrative + relative particle (NS §261): Vitn 3/3 kóngr, sá átti unga ‘king, who had a young’.

Loss of er after þá ‘when’, þar ‘where’, þegar ‘as soon as’, síðan ‘after’ (NS §265, Anm. 2a): Sól 6/3 þá hann veginn vaknaði ‘when he slain awoke’

Loss of ‘that’ after svá ‘so that’, þó ‘although’, því ‘because’ (NS §265, Anm. 2b): Sól 54/5 svá víða þótti mér ‘so that widely seemed to me’

1st person sg. pret. subj. ending -a > -i (ANG §536.1): Vitn 26/1 Væri eg skyldr að skýra ‘should I be obliged to explain’

Occasional reintroduction by analogy of v- | -o (ANG §235.1): Mv II, 4/7 Vurðu þau; af velferð ‘became they; from prosperity’

6. Devoicing of g before s: huxan ‘thought’ as opposed to earlier hugsan (ANG §239.1b.): Mv I, 6/1 Vóx hræðilig huxan ‘grew (a) terrible thought’.

10. How to use this Edition

SkP is intended for a variety of users: for students and scholars of Old Norse and other medieval European languages and literatures, for scholars in cognate disciplines such as history, archaeology, the history of religion, and comparative literature, and for users whose primary interest is in skaldic poetry. In view of its likely augmented readership, SkP contains a greater proportion of introductory and explanatory material than is to be found in most previous editions, certainly in comparison with Skj, where it is minimal. Most of the explanatory material is to be found in the Introductions to poems, including the skald biographies, which appear at the head of the oeuvre of named skalds whose authorship of poetry is known;[21] in the context sections, which indicate the wider prose context(s) in which a verse or set of verses has been preserved (there are few of these in Volume 7, as most Christian poems are not embedded in prose texts); and in the notes to each stanza.

Each poem, single verse (lausavísa) or fragment has a distinct siglum in SkP, which in many cases is different from that used in Skj and in the list at the beginning of Lexicon Poeticum 1931 (LP). A comparative table of sigla used in SkP, Skj and LP is included in the introductory part of each volume of SkP. The text of each poem, single verse or fragment has been established by its editor on the foundation of a base manuscript, judged by the editor to be the best or (in some cases) the only witness to the probable original. The text will have been normalised to the standard appropriate to its probable date of origin.[22] Below the stanza is the same text rendered in a prose order, and underneath that is an English translation. As far as possible, the translation provides a version close to the sense of the Icelandic text. Unlike most other translations of skaldic poetry, kennings are here given their full sense value, that is, both base-word and determinant are translated and the referent, not being part of the actual text but implicit in it, is given in small capitals within square brackets after each kenning. Referents of one category of kennings, which refer to specific individuals, are given within square brackets in lower case preceded by an = sign, in order to indicate that these referents are literally equivalent to the periphrasis of base-word and determinant within the text. For example, ‘the son of Óðinn’ is designated [= Þórr] and ‘lord of the heavens’ [= God]. Angle brackets within the English translation are used to provide the generic sense value of Old Norse mythological names, such as Hildr <valkyrie> or alternative poetic names for mythological beings, such as Viðurr <= Óðinn>. In the latter case, an = sign appears to the left of the ‘normal’ name.

The editorial apparatus allows the reader to compare the edited version of the base manuscript with the text in other manuscript witnesses. A reference is also given to the text’s designation in Skj B, comprising the poet’s name (if any) as given there, the title of the poem or fragment and equivalent stanza number. The Mss line lists the base manuscript first in bold type, followed by the other manuscript witnesses in assumed chronological order, each with folio or page number in round brackets immediately following. Paper manuscripts are distinguished from those of parchment or vellum by having a superscript ˣ after the manuscript siglum. Where the poetic text is found in more than one prose source, abbreviated reference to that source is given in italics within round brackets immediately after the group of manuscripts representing that source.

Only significant manuscript variants, not simple orthographical variants or standard normalisations are given in the Readings line, unless the unnormalised manuscript reading is regarded as significant for some reason or cannot be normalised, in which case it is placed within inverted commas. Where variants are given, the lemma (the reading of the base manuscript) is given first, followed by the readings of other manuscripts, separated from the lemma by a colon. In cases where the editor has not followed the base manuscript, the reading of another manuscript is in first place, followed by a colon, and the formula ‘so X’, to indicate that this is not the reading of the base manuscript.

The Editions line lists all significant previous editions of the text, beginning with Skj, Skald and NN, and followed by other editions, usually in chronological order, giving their date of publication, and the page upon which the verse in question appears.

The Notes are intended to address significant phonological, metrical, lexicographical and above all interpretative issues as well as questions of a broader contextual nature. Although the editors do not aim to give a comprehensive history of scholarship and previous editorial practice, significant editorial interpretations and emendations are discussed and evaluated in the Notes. On the matter of emendation, this edition is more conservative than most of its predecessors. All emended text, that is, letters or words that have no manuscript attestation, are given in italics. Where editors have omitted letters or words that are present in the manuscripts, the symbol * appears in the text and prose order. Purely conjectural emendation, where the editor conjectures what might have existed in a defective text in the absence of evidence in support, is usually avoided in SkP, though previous editors’ conjectures may be mentioned in the Notes. However, if there are metrical or other forms of evidence within the text that support a proposed emendation, this may be adopted and justified by the editor. A sample verse with graphic explanations of the main features of the edition appears in the endpapers to Volume 7.

All abbreviated references to editions are expanded in the bibliography at the end of the volume. Abbreviated references to manuscripts are explained in the Introduction to each poem, when the manuscripts are first mentioned, while abbreviated references to prose sources also appear in the bibliography, as do references to secondary literature given in the notes to each stanza. General abbreviations used in this volume, aside from those that are very common, like e.g. and cf., are listed separately, while technical terms that may be unfamiliar to the reader are also glossed.


[21]   One of the biographies relevant to Volume 7 poetry, that of Einarr Skúlason, composer of Geisli, appears in Volume 2.

[22]   A full discussion of normalisation in the edition as a whole is in the Introduction to SkP in Volume I. Section 9 above covers only the fourteenth century. The actual orthography of the base manuscript for each poem can be seen in the transcripts available in the electronic edition, where images of the manuscripts are also available.

© 2008-