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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Snæbjǫrn (Snæbj)

11th century; volume 3; ed. Edith Marold;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 2

Skj info: Snæbjǫrn, Islænder, i det 11. årh. (AI, 211, BI, 201).

Skj poems:

The identity of the skald Snæbjǫrn (Snæbj), to whom SnE attributes one stanza and one helmingr, is uncertain. He is not mentioned in Skáldatal, nor can he be identified as one of the three Snæbjǫrns who appear in Ldn (Snæbjǫrn Eyvindarson, Snæbjǫrn galti ‘Boar’ from Vestfirðir and Snæbjǫrn Hafnar-Ormsson). SnE does not give his patronymic. He was first assumed to be Snæbjǫrn galti (Bugge 1886, 337; Gollancz 1898, xvii) who discovered Gunnbjarnarsker and was killed there (Ldn, ÍF 1, 190-5). Finnur Jónsson (1898, 133; LH I, 520) rightly opposed this view. Ohlmarks (1958, 167-71) identified him as Snæbjǫrn Hafnar-Ormsson (Ldn, ÍF 1, 61), whom he took to be the grandson of Snæbjǫrn galti. Ohlmark’s reason for doing so was that Snæbjǫrn Hafnar-Ormsson’s adulthood (c. 1000-30) coincided with the period to which Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) assigned the stanzas.

Lausavísur — Snæbj LvIII

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2017, ‘ Snæbjǫrn, Lausavísur’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 376. <> (accessed 7 December 2021)

 1   2 

Skj: Snæbjǫrn: Lausavísur, o. 1010-20 (AI, 211, BI, 201)

SkP info: III, 377

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Snæbj Lv 1III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2017, ‘Snæbjǫrn, Lausavísur 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 377.

Hvatt kveða hrœra Grotta
hergrimmastan skerja
út fyr jarðar skauti
eylúðrs níu brúðir,
þær, es (lungs) fyr lǫngu
líðmeldr (skipa hlíðar
baugskerðir rístr barði
ból) Amlóða mólu.


They say the nine women {of the island-mill-box} [SEA = Ægir] quickly stir {the most man-hostile Grotti of the skerries} [SEA] beyond the corner of the earth, they, who long ago ground {the ale-flour of Amlóði}; [SAND] {the ring-diminisher} [GENEROUS MAN] carves {the dwelling {of the hillside of ships}} [WAVE > SEA] with the prow of the longship.

context: This stanza is cited in SnE (Skm) among stanzas exemplifying kennings for ‘sea’ (SnE 1998, I, 38): Hér er kallat hafit Amlóða (so WU) kvern ‘Here the ocean is called the mill of Amlóði’.

notes: [1] Grotta ‘Grotti <hand-mill>’: The vowel quantity is uncertain (see LP: Grotti). If the vowel is short (Grotti), the word means ‘crusher’ (< Gmc *gruntan, see AEW: grotti; cf. Grottasǫngr). Grotti (or Grótti) is the mythical mill that could grind anything a person desired (see Grott, Skm, SnE 1998, I, 51-2). SnE relates that the Danish king Fróði forced two female slaves from Sweden, Fenja and Menja, to grind gold, peace and ‘Fróði’s joy’ (sæla Fróða) for him. They, however, secretly used the mill to ‘grind’ an army whose commander, the sea-king Mýsingr, killed Fróði and took the two slaves aboard his ship, with the mill, to grind salt – so much that the ship sank, taking the mill with it. Later a maelstrom arose where the sea falls through the hole in the millstone. The factual basis for this myth is believed to be the tidal current known as Moskstraumen, one of the world’s strongest, which is located in the outer Lofoten archipelago in Norway. It was first mentioned in the C8th by Paulus Diaconus and later described by Olaus Magnus, who depicted it in the C16th on his Carta marina (see Tolley 1994-7, 68-9). — [1, 2] Grotta skerja ‘Grotti <hand-mill> of the skerries [SEA]’: This kenning undoubtedly means ‘sea’ in the broadest sense here; according to Tolley (1994-7, 70) it refers to a maelstrom. See Note to l. 1 below, and cf. the kenning eymylvir ‘island-grinder [MAELSTROM]’, ÞSjár Frag 4/4. — [3] út fyr skauti jarðar ‘beyond the corner of the earth’: Jarðarskaut lit. ‘earth-corner’ is one of the four corners of the earth which lie under the four corners of heaven (Fritzner: jarðarskaut, himinskaut). They designate the edge of the earth. Beyond that edge is, according to medieval perception, the ocean (meginhaf, útsjár) that surrounds the earth (cf. Gylf, SnE 2005, 12). The phrase út fyr skauti jarðar ‘beyond the corner of the earth’ means the ocean beyond the borders of the earth. — [4] eylúðrs ‘of the island-mill-box [SEA = Ægir]’: Krause (1969, 88) translates eylúðr as Inselkasten ‘island-bin’ and compares it to sea-kennings such as eygarðr ‘island-enclosure [SEA]’ in Hharð Gamv 6/6II (see also Meissner 94-5). The meaning of lúðr is uncertain, however. According to Fritzner: lúðr, the word refers to a Stok, som tjener til Underlag for Kværn, hvorpaa den underste Møllesten hviler, Møllebænk ‘a trunk on which the bottom millstone rests, which serves as a platform for a grinding mill, mill-bench’. LP translates lúðr as kværnkasse (af firkantet form, hvori de runde kværnstene ligger, og som står på 4 ben, söjler) ‘mill-box (square in shape, containing the round millstones, resting on four legs, columns)’. If we take lúðr here as pars pro toto for ‘mill’, it yields a sea-kenning of the same pattern as Grotti skerja ‘Grotti <hand-mill> of the skerries’ (Meissner 1927, 4; Tolley 1994-7, 70). Bugge (1886, 336) calls attention to a similar expression, eymylvir ‘island-grinder’, in ÞSjár Frag 4/4. Eylúðr is otherwise attested once as a name for Óðinn (see Þul Óðins 7/1 and Note there). — [4] níu brúðir eylúðrs ‘the nine women of the island-mill-box [SEA = Ægir]’: The giant Ægir is regarded as a personification of the sea and his daughters are the waves (cf. the kenning dœtr Ægis in Sveinn Norðrdr 1/2 and the Note there). The interpretation combining brúðir and eylúðrs was first suggested by Sveinbjörn Egilsson (SnE 1848-87, III, 53) but later disputed by Finnur Jónsson (Skj B), who adopted the more awkward skerja ‘of the skerries’ (l. 2) as determinant in this kenning. Kock (NN §572), followed by all later eds including the present one, favours Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s version. In this stanza, however, it is preferable to take ‘the women of Ægir’ literally as mythical beings and not waves, because waves cannot hrœra ‘stir’ the sea. The number of these nine daughters of Ægir and their dwelling út fyr skauti jarðar ‘beyond the corner of the earth’ recall the nine mothers of the god Heimdallr. They also gave birth to him at the edge of the world; see Hyndl 35/5, 7-8 (NK 294): nío báro þann … iotna meyiar við iarðar þrǫm ‘nine giants’ maidens gave birth to him at the edge of the earth’ (see Kommentar III, 790-2). — [5] lungs ‘of the longship’: Lung n. is a heiti for ‘ship’ (see Þul Skipa 2/7 and Note there). — [5] fyr lǫngu ‘long ago’: This alludes to the Amlethus myth (see Note to ll. 6, 8 below). — [6] líðmeldr ‘the ale-flour’: The interpretation of this cpd is the main crux of this helmingr, and there have been numerous attempts to solve it. (a) The earliest eds (SnE 1848-87, III; CPB II, 54-5) and Meissner 92 believed that the vowel of the first element of the cpd was short (lið- ‘ship, vehicle’) rather than long (líð- ‘ale, strong drink’), and they rearranged the elements of the kenning as meldr-lið Amlóða ‘flour-ship of Amlóði [MILL > SEA]’. Yet, lið ‘vehicle, ship’ does not form the required aðalhending with hlíðar ‘of the slope’. Finnur Jónsson (LP: lið 2) initially assumed that lið ‘ship’ might have had a long vowel (cf. Skj B) but later changed his opinion (Finnur Jónsson 1934a, 32). (b) The present edn is based on an interpretation proposed by Falk (1923, 62-3). He adopted líð- in the sense ‘strong drink’ and took líðmeldr to mean ‘grain for brewing beer’ (cf. the meaning of meldr in the kenning grœðis meldrar ‘of the ocean of flour [ALE]’, HSt Rst 13/3I). Líðmeldr means ‘that which is ground for drink’, which makes sense when one considers how sprouted malt is coarsely ground during the brewing process (see Unger 2004, 4). Falk’s taking líðmeldr as a single word enabled him to combine it directly with Amlóði to form a sand-kenning. The only problem with this interpretation is that Skm explicitly states that the present stanza refers to Amlóði’s mill (Amlóða kvern, SnE 1998, I, 38), but it is possible that Snorri was mistaken here. In the corpus of extant skaldic poetry, there are indeed two kennings that refer to the sea as the ‘mill of the islands’ (see Note to l. 1, 2), but these are not connected with the name Amlóði. (c) Kock (NN §573), Meissner (1927, 373) and Ohlmarks (1958, 524-5) make emendations, which will not be discussed here. For other, less plausible attempts at an interpretation, see also Krause (1969, 91) and Tolley (1994-7, 71). — [6, 8] ból hlíðar skipa ‘the dwelling of the hillside of ships [WAVE > SEA]’: Meissner 98 does not acknowledge this as a kenning because either phrase, hlíð skipa ‘the hillside of ships’ or ból skipa ‘the dwelling/home of ships’, can by itself refer to the sea. Finnur Jónsson (1934a, 32) rightly notes, however, that kennings like ból hlíðar skipa ‘the dwelling of the hillside of ships [WAVE > SEA]’ are not unusual in skaldic poetry (see also Skj B; LP: ból). Every attempt at combining ból with other words in the helmingr (Meissner 98; Meissner 1927, 374; NN §573) involves substantial emendation and will therefore not be discussed here. — [6, 8] líðmeldr Amlóða ‘the ale-flour of Amlóði <legendary hero> [SAND]’: This kenning alludes to a legend told by Saxo (Saxo 2005, I, 3, 6, 1-25, pp. 221-35). According to this legend, Amlethus (Hamlet) feigns insanity to avoid being killed by his uncle, Fengo, after Fengo has killed Amlethus’s father. But his adversaries are suspicious and repeatedly attempt to demonstrate that he is in fact perfectly sane. At one point they show him sand on the beach and call it flour, whereupon Amlethus responds that it had been ground by the storms (Saxo 2005, I, 3, 6, 10, p. 222). Sand can thus also be called the ‘flour of Amlóði’. — [8] Amlóða ‘of Amlóði <legendary hero>’: This is the oldest unambiguous attestation of the name Hamlet. On the etymology of the name, see AEW: Amlóði and NN §3221. Whereas most eds assume that this stanza refers to the legendary figure Amlethus described by Saxo, a few scholars, for etymological reasons, regard Amlóði as a storm demon (see the discussion in AEW: Amlóði, as well Meissner 1927, 383 and Krause 1969, 94). However, there is strong evidence that the stanza refers to the legendary Hamlet figure in a particular situation (see Note to ll. 6, 8), and the etymology is not a sound basis for postulating the existence of an otherwise unknown sea (or storm) demon.

texts: Skm 134, SnE 136

editions: Skj Snæbjǫrn: Lausavísur 1 (AI, 211; BI, 201); Skald I, 105, NN §§572, 573, 1791, 3221; SnE 1848-87, I, 328-9, II, 317, 530, III, 53-4, SnE 1931, 117, SnE 1998, I, 38.


GKS 2367 4° (R) 26v, 17 - 26v, 19 (SnE)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Traj 1374x (Tx) 27v, 7 - 27v, 7 (SnE)  image  
AM 242 fol (W) 57, 21 - 57, 23 (SnE)  image  image  image  
DG 11 (U) 29v, 27 - 30r, 2 (SnE)  image  
AM 757 a 4° (B) 5r, 39 - 5r, 41 (SnE)  image  image  image  image  
AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 354r, 2 - 354r, 9  image  
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