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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gamlkan Has 11VII

Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Gamli kanóki, Harmsól 11’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 82-4.

Gamli kanókiHarmsól

text and translation

Ókynnin gatk annan
optsinnis þar vinna
víga* ljóss, es vissak,
veðr-Þrótt, á mik dróttinn.
Lítt bark ǫnn ok ótta,
undgjalfrs, fyr mér sjǫlfum,
grálinns geymirunna
glaðr þás dœmðak aðra.

Gatk optsinnis {annan {{ljóss víga*} veðr}-Þrótt} vinna ókynnin þar, es vissak á mik, dróttinn. Bark lítt ǫnn ok ótta fyr mér sjǫlfum, þás dœmðak glaðr {aðra geymirunna {grálinns {undgjalfrs}}}.
‘I declared oftentimes [that] another Þróttr <= Óðinn> of the storm of the flame of battles [(lit. ‘storm-Þróttr of the flame of battles’) SWORD > BATTLE > WARRIOR] was committing the sins there which I knew myself to be guilty of [lit. (were) in myself], Lord. I had little worry and fear for myself, when I gladly [lit. glad] judged other protecting bushes of the grey serpent of the wound-surge [BLOOD > SWORD > WARRIORS].

notes and context

[1-4]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) construes this helmingr as follows: Gatk optsinnis vinna ókynni á mik þar, es vissak annan vigrar veðr-Þrótt, dróttinn ljóss, and translates ofte gjorde jeg mig skyldig i unoder, hvor jeg vidste, at andre mænd gjorde det, lysets herre ‘I was often guilty of bad habits where I knew that other men were doing it, lord of light’. Kock (NN §2110) objects to Finnur’s interpretation as ‘modern’, substituting his own prose arrangement: Gatk optsinnis vinna þar ókynni, er ek vissa annan víga ljóss veðr-Þrótt á mik, dróttinn which Black (1971, 167) paraphrases ‘I have often behaved ignobly when I knew that another man was treating me in that manner, Lord’. Whether consciously or not, this largely accords with Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s understanding in 444ˣ, which reads: Ek gat optsinnis vinna ókynnin, þar er ek vissa annan Þrótt á mik, dróttinn ljóss veðrvegar ‘I have often behaved badly when I knew another man (lit. Þrótt = Óðinn) to be doing so towards me, Lord of the bright weather-way [SKY/HEAVEN > = God]’. This interpretation (and the emendation to vegar in l. 3) is adopted by Kempff (1867, 28). In the context of Gamli’s confession of former sins, Kock’s suggestion that Gamli is confessing to behaving badly seems more plausible than Finnur’s, in which he tries to shift the blame for his misdeeds. As Jón Helgason (1935-6, 195) explains, there are some difficulties with Kock’s interpretation. The main problem is that the construction vinna á e-n is otherwise unattested: Fritzner: vinna gives examples of the phrase only with dat. or gen. objects. Furthermore, as Jón says, it is difficult to justify the separation of the acc. annan in l. 1 from the immediately adjacent verb geta. Jón’s suggestion, which is adopted by Black (1971, 166) and here, depends on the assumption that the phrasal verb vita á sik ‘to know oneself, to be guilty of’ with objects meaning ‘fault’, ‘blame’ or, as here, ‘sin’ existed in C12th usage. This use is common in MIcel, and Fritzner: vita has several examples of the similar phrase at vita e-t eptir e-m with this meaning in medieval religious prose, though Fritzner lists no examples of vita in conjunction with either á or sik. Even so, Jón’s interpretation makes for a much simpler and smoother prose arrangement than does either Kock’s or Finnur’s, and fits better with the tone of both the second helmingr and Gamli’s self-accusatory confession in sts 7-16.



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: Gamli kanóki, 2. Harmsól 11: AI, 563, BI, 551, Skald I, 267, NN §2110; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 16-17, Kempff 1867, 4, Nj 1875-8, II, 271, Rydberg 1907, 22, Jón Helgason 1935-6, 195, Black 1971, 166, Attwood 1996a, 86-7, 224.


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