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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gamlkan Has 49VII

Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Gamli kanóki, Harmsól 49’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 116-17.

Gamli kanókiHarmsól

text and translation

Drengr réð brátt at beiða
buðlung ept hag þungan
hǫppum reifðr, sem hœfði,
himinríkis sér líkna.
Fekk an fyrr af søkkva
fríðr landreka síðan
— hann réttisk svá — sunnu
sætrs vingjafar mætri.

Drengr, hǫppum reifðr, réð brátt ept þungan hag at beiða {buðlung himinríkis} sér líkna, sem hœfði. Fríðr fekk síðan mætri vingjafar an fyrr af {landreka {søkkva {sætrs sunnu}}}; hann réttisk svá.
‘The man, endowed with successes, quickly resolved after his grievous sinfulness to beg the lord of the kingdom of heaven [= God] for mercies for himself, as was fitting. The noble one received then more glorious gifts of friendship than before from the land-ruler of the treasures of the seat of the sun [SKY/HEAVEN > HEAVENLY BODIES > = God]; he put himself right in this way.

notes and context

According to 2 Sam. XII, David’s penance for his adultery and for the death of Uriah occurred only after considerable prompting from the prophet Nathan, and the death of his child by Bathsheba. Nonetheless, David is regularly presented as an example of repentance in medieval homiletic literature. Black (1971, 260) gives parallels in Gregory the Great’s Homilia XXXIV (Gregorius I, cols 1256-7), which is cited in the ON-Icel. Eluc and in HomÍsl 1872, 63. — [5-8]: Although the essential meaning and content of the second helmingr are clear, previous eds have encountered difficulties in resolving the w.o. and, more particularly, in identifying the God-kenning. At the heart of the problem is the ms. reading søkkva in l. 5, which is not in any doubt. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, followed by Kempff, construes the kenning søkkvi sætrs sunnu, which Kempff (1867, 52) translates ‘creator of the seat of the sun’. No explanation is offered (but see LP (1860): sökkvi), and søkkvi meaning ‘creator’ is not attested elsewhere (see LP: søkkvi), the normal sense being ‘adversary, enemy, slayer’. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B and LP: søkkvi) is unable to make sense of the ms. reading, and emends to harra gen. sg. of harri m. ‘king, lord’. This creates the God-kenning harri sætrs sunnu ‘king of the seat of the sun’, which recalls the similar kennings vísi setrs sunnu (Has 13/6-8) and siklingr setrs sunnu (Leið 13/7-8). Kock (NN §§1057, 1208) takes søkkva as the gen. pl. of søkk, n., which he assumes to be cognate with OE sinc, meaning ‘jewel, treasure’. Neither AEW nor Alexander Jóhannesson 1951-6 gives any etymology for søkk n., and the word is attested in neither Fritzner nor CVC. However, søkk seems to make one (other) appearance in skaldic poetry, in Egill Arkv 8/3V, where it refers to the skald’s eyes. If søkk is understood to mean ‘jewel’, the God-kenning, according to Kock, is then formed by taking vinr from vingjafir in l. 8, and construing either vinr søkkva sunnu sætrs, or søkkvavinr sunnu sætrs ‘the generous lord of the seat of the sun [SKY/HEAVEN > = God]’. Jón Helgason (1935-6, 259-60) takes this one stage further. He accepts Kock’s interpretation of søkk as meaning ‘jewel’ or ‘treasure’, but does not feel that vinr søkkva sætrs sunnu is compatible with other God-kennings in Has. Instead, Jón takes søkk sætrs sunnu to mean ‘the treasure of heaven’, in the sense of the heavenly bodies, which are described in similar terms in 4/2-3 (hnossa himins – see Note). Jón also notes that landreki ‘ruler’ (l. 6) is used elsewhere in Has only in kennings for God, viz. landreki krapta (15/6) and landreki veðrs strandar (61/6): ‘I presume that landreki was originally part of the kenning for “God”, which is found in this half-st. ..., but that a copyist, who believed that the word was used of King David here, altered a dat. landreka to the nom. landreki’ (1935-6, 259). The God-kenning thus becomes landreki søkkva sætrs sunnu ‘ruler of the jewels of the seat of the sun’, which requires only minimal emendation, and fits well with the image-structure of the poem. Further evidence for landreki, rather than vinr, being the base-word here is afforded by the fact that the cpd vingjǫf (l. 8) is also used to describe the grace of God in Pl 28/7 and Heildr 17/8. This suggests that Jón’s resistance to Kock’s interpretation is well-founded.



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 49: AI, 569, BI, 560-1, Skald I, 272,  NN §1208; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 29, Kempff 1867, 15, Rydberg 1907, 28, Jón Helgason 1935-6, 259-60, Black 1971, 261, Attwood 1996a, 234.


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