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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gestumbl Heiðr 16VIII (Heiðr 63)

Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 63 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 16)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 426.

GestumblindiHeiðreks gátur

text and translation

Hvat er þat undra,         er ek úti sá
        fyrir Dellings durum?
Horni harðara,         hrafni svartara,
skjalli hvítara,         skapti réttara.
Heiðrekr konungr,         hyggðu at gátu.

Hvat er undra þat, er ek sá úti fyrir durum Dellings? Horni harðara, hrafni svartara, skjalli hvítara, skapti réttara. Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.
‘What is the wonder that I saw outside before Dellingr’s doors? [It is] harder than horn, blacker than the raven, whiter than the membrane of an egg, straighter than a shaft. King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.

notes and context

Heiðrekr’s response is (Heiðr 1960, 35-6): Smækkask nú gáturnar, Gestumblindi; hvat þarf lengr yfir þessu at sitja? Þat er hrafntinna, ok skein á hana sólargeisli ‘The riddles now grow trivial, Gestumblindi; what is the need to sit longer over this? That is obsidian, and a sunbeam shines on it’. The H redaction (Heiðr 1924, 69) omits the initial comment (but cf. Heiðr 57, Note to [All]) where a similar observation is made), but adds er lá í einu húsi ‘which lay in a house’. Obsidian is a dark-coloured glassy volcanic rock; Iceland is one of the best known locations in Europe for its occurrence. It features in late antique and medieval encyclopedias, such as Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia (XXXVI, 67; Eichholz 1962, 154-6) and Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae (XVI, iv, 21: Isidore, Etym. II). There is evidence that it was used as flint during the Viking Age (Hughes and Lucas 2009, 46); cf. Heiðr 77 and 81, about flint and embers in the hearth, respectively. Obsidian forms a very sharp edge and was also used as a cutting tool (Orri Vésteinsson 2000a, 169); it may further have been used for decorative or magical purposes, though the Icelandic evidence for the latter is from as late as the C19th (Hughes and Lucas 2009, 46). — Lines 1-3 are ljóðaháttr, 4-7 málaháttr and 8-9 fornyrðislag. — [1]: See Note to Heiðr 55/1. — [6-7]: These lines are reversed in the H-redaction mss, which ordering is favoured by Skj and Skald, but the other mss agree on the ordering retained here. Either is acceptable.



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], D. 5. Heiðreks gátur 8: AII, 222-3, BII, 241, Skald II, 125; Heiðr 1672, 147, FSN 1, 470, Heiðr 1873, 246-7, 336, Heiðr 1924, 63, 69, 135, FSGJ 2, 41, Heiðr 1960, 35; Edd. Min. 112.


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