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

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].

Mss: B(12v), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [3] víga*: vígar B    [6] undgjalfrs: so all others, ‘vnn[...]gialfrs’ B    [7] geymirunna: geymirunnum B    [8] glaðr þás: ‘gla[...]’ B, ‘gla(dr þa)’(?) 399a‑bˣ, BFJ, ‘gla(d)[...]’(?) BRydberg

Editions: Skj AI, 563, Skj 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.

Notes: [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. — [6-7] geymirunna grálinns undgjalfrs ‘protecting bushes of the grey serpent of the wound-surge [BLOOD > SWORD > WARRIORS]’: Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson (Nj 1875-8, II, 271) suggested emendation of B’s geymirunnum (dat. pl.) to geymirunna (acc. pl), which has been adopted by all subsequent eds. Geymirunnr ‘protecting bush’ occurs elsewhere only in poetry dated to C12th: it is used twice in HSt Rst 25/3 and 32/5I in the identical man-kennings geymirunnr gunnelds ‘protecting bush of the fire of battle’ and also in a poorly-preserved st. from RvHbreiðm Hl 5III, where it seems to provide the base-word of a man-kenning. It is interesting to note that the HSt Rst examples share the basic conceit of Gamli’s more elaborate kenning here. Undgjalfr ‘wound-surge’ is not attested elsewhere, but is conceptually related to undbára ‘wound-wave’ in Geisl 54/6.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Nj 1875-89 = Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson. 1875-89. Njála: Udgivet efter gamle håndskrifter. Íslendingasögur udgivne efter gamle haandskrifter af Det Kongelige Nordiske Oldskrift-selskab 4. Copenhagen: Thiele.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. Attwood, Katrina. 1996a. ‘The Poems of MS AM 757a 4to: An Edition and Contextual Study’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Leeds.
  7. Black, Elizabeth L. 1971. ‘Harmsól: an edition’. B. Litt. thesis. University of Oxford.
  8. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  9. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  10. Jón Helgason. 1935-6. ‘Til skjaldedigtningen’. APS 10, 250-64.
  11. Kempff, Hjalmar, ed. 1867. Kaniken Gamles ‘Harmsól’ (Sol i Sorgen): isländskt andligt qväde från medeltiden med öfversättning och förklaringar. Uppsala: Edquist & Berglund.
  12. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1844. Fjøgur gømul kvæði. Boðsrit til að hlusta á þá opinberu yfirheyrslu í Bessastaða Skóla þann 22-29 mai 1844. Viðeyar Klaustri: prentuð af Helga Helgasyni, á kostnað Bessastaða Skóla. Bessastaðir: Helgi Helgason.
  13. Internal references
  14. Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Leiðarvísan 37’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 172.
  15. Rolf Stavnem 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallar-Steinn, Rekstefja’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 893.
  16. Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 54’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 51.
  17. Rolf Stavnem (ed.) 2012, ‘Hallar-Steinn, Rekstefja 25’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 927.
  18. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2017, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl and Hallr Þórarinsson, Háttalykill 5’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1012.

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