Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Líkn 36VII

George S. Tate (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut 36’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 270-1.

Anonymous PoemsLíknarbraut

Heims lézt verð ok virða
vegit gimsteinum fegra,
himna ljóss, í hvössum,
háleitr, friðar skálum.
Vág erat víst né frægri
(vétt sýnir þú rétta)
ófs til ýta gæfu
(alsetrs vera) betri.

{Háleitr, ljóss himna}, lézt vegit verð heims ok virða, fegra gimsteinum, í hvössum skálum friðar. Erat víst betri né frægri vág til ýta ófs gæfu; þú sýnir rétta vétt {alsetrs vera}.

{High, radiant one of the heavens} [CROSS], you weighed the price of the world and men, fairer than gems, in sharp scales of peace. Surely there is not a better or more famous balance for men’s bounteous good fortune; you show the just weight {of the common seat of men} [WORLD].

Mss: B(12r), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [5] Vág: ‘[...]’ B, 399a‑bˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 157, Skj BII, 169, Skald II, 89, NN §§1394, 1396; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 46, Rydberg 1907, 17, 51, Tate 1974, 81.

Notes: [All]: Like other images in this catalogue of Cross figures (sts 31-7), the idea of the Cross as scales (skálum, l. 4; vág, l. 5) in which Christ, the ‘price of the world’ (verð heims, l. 1) is weighed, is also found in one of Fortunatus’ hymns, sung in Good Friday liturgy. St. 6 of Vexilla regis, addressed to the Cross, reads: Beata, cuius brachiis / pretium pependit saeculi, / statera facta corporis / praedam tulitque tartari ‘Blessed (tree), on whose branches the price of the world was weighed; [it was] made the scales of [Christ’s] body, and it lifted up the plunder of hell’ (Bulst 1956, 129). Pretium saeculi occurs in Pange lingua 10 as well (Bulst 1956, 128); cf. 1 Cor. VI.20 Empti enim estis pretio magno ‘For you are bought with a great price’. In a passage noted by Paasche 1914a, 130, Alan of Lille (C12th) also articulates this idea in his Distinctiones: Statera ... dicitur crux Christi, in qua ponderatum est pretium nostrae redemptionis, id est corpus Christi ‘The Cross is said to be the scales of Christ, in which has been weighed the price of our redemption, i.e. the body of Christ’ (Alanus de Insulis, col. 955). The phrase statera crucis ‘scales of the Cross’ occurs in liturgy (Manz 1941, 472, no. 942) and in hymns (e.g. AH 53, 193); on the iconography of the image see Wormald 1937-8, 276-80. — [1-2] lézt vegit ‘you weighed’: Láta vegit can mean either ‘to cause, allow to be weighed’ or simply ‘to weigh’. — [2] fegra gimsteinum ‘fairer than gems’: The phrase also occurs, of God’s words, in 7/6, 8. — [3-4] hvössum skálum friðar ‘in sharp scales of peace’: The adj. hvass typically means ‘sharp, acute’, here referring to Christ’s suffering. Fríðar ‘of peace’ seems more suitable with skálum ‘scales’ than with himna ljóss (see below), both because of proximity and because it is through the balance of the Cross that the atonement (at-one-ment) is effected, whereby peace is won for mankind. — [4, 3] háleitr ljóss himna ‘high, radiant one of the heavens [CROSS]’: Ljóss ‘radiant’ is here construed as a substantival adj., which with háleitr ‘high’ qualifies the 2nd pers. subject, deriving m. gender from implied kross ‘Cross’. LP (1860), construing a sun-kenning, renders the phrase alte in solem suspiciens ‘gazing [from -leitr] high toward the sun’. Skj B and Skald emend to n. háleitt ljós and combine the phrase with friðar ‘of peace’ (l. 4). Skj B (cf. LP: háleitr) then takes this to refer to God, but NN §1394 to the Cross as ‘peace-light of heaven’. (Using Skj B’s emended text, Guðrún Nordal 2001, 293 cites himna ljós ‘light of the heavens’ as the only time ljós occurs as a base-word in a kenning for Christ in C12th-C13th.) — [5] vág ‘balance-scales’: Lacuna in B; upper right of possible <g> remains. Alliteration and l. length require a monosyllabic word beginning with <v>. Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 46 suggests vag, which (as vág) has been accepted by all subsequent eds. — [6] vétt ‘weight’: Possibly vett (ms. vétt, but accents are inconsistent). Only LP gives vétt as a headword (here for aðalhending with rétta); CVC, AEW, and Fritzner see vett as an alternative spelling of vætt ‘weight’. In either case, this is the only occurrence in skaldic poetry. It is unclear, however, whether the word refers to Christ (like pretium saeculi / heims verð, l. 1) or, perhaps more likely, to the weight of the sin-laden world which Christ’s sacrifice outweighs. — [7] ófs (gen. sg.) ‘bounteous’: Lit. ‘of great quantity’. Skj B (LP) construes as overmod ‘pride’; Finnur Jónsson 1901, 24 suggests that óf is a contraction of óhóf ‘immoderation’. The gen. sg., however, often functions as an intensive, ‘greatly, very’; LP (1860), Rydberg 1907, 51, and NN §1396 read it this way but apply it to rétta, i.e. ‘very just’. Here, however, it is taken with gæfu, i.e. ‘bounteous good-fortune’, with reference to the immeasurable grace extended to mankind through the Passion. — [8] alsetrs vera ‘of the common seat of men [EARTH]’: Skj B separates and emends the prefix to alls, assigning the adj. to the intercalary clause to modify ófs (i.e., ‘the just weight of all pride’), but the al- prefix means simply ‘general, common’ as in alþingi ‘general assembly’. Alsetrs vera, a kenning for ‘of the whole world’ (NN §1396); cf. Meissner, 87, based on Skj B: vera setr as earth-kenning, i.e. ‘the earth as dwelling place of mankind’. The sense here is probably more ‘world’ (saeculum with its moral implications), than ‘earth’ per se; it is not physical creation that is weighed in the balance of the Cross. — [8] betri ‘better’: The abbreviation, here expanded as ‘-ri’ can also be expanded ‘-ir’; in 399a-bˣ Jón Sigurðsson adopts the former in his transcription but notes ‘betir ms.’ in margin.


  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. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  6. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. LP (1860) = Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1860. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis. Copenhagen: Societas Regia antiquariorum septentrionalium.
  8. AH = Dreves, G. M., C. Blume and H. M. Bannister, eds. 1886-1922. Analecta hymnica medii aeui. 55 vols. Leipzig: Reisland. Rpt. 1961. New York: Johnson.
  9. Guðrún Nordal. 2001. Tools of Literacy: The Role of Skaldic Verse in Icelandic Textual Culture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Toronto, Buffalo and London: University of Toronto Press.
  10. Bulst, Walther, ed. 1956. Hymni latini antiquissimi LXXV, Psalmi III. Heidelberg: Kerle.
  11. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  12. Tate, George S. 1974. ‘Líknarbraut: A Skaldic Drápa on the Cross’. Ph.D. thesis. Cornell University. DAI 35:6112A.
  13. Wormald, Francis. 1937-8. ‘The Crucifix and the Balance’. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 1, 276-80.
  14. Finnur Jónsson. 1901. Det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog omtr. 800-1300. SUGNL 28. Copenhagen: Møller.
  15. 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.
  16. Manz, Georg. 1941. Ausdrucksformen der lateinischen Liturgiesprache bis ins elfte Jahrhundert. Texte und Arbeiten herausgegeben durch die Erzabtei Beuron. Abteilung I, Beiheft I. Beiträge zur Ergründung des älteren lateinischen christlichen Schrifttums und Gottesdienstes 1. Beuron in Hohenzollern: Beuroner Kunstverlag.
  17. Paasche, Fredrik. 1914. Kristendom og kvad: En studie i norrøn middelalder. Christiania (Oslo): Aschehoug. Rpt. in Paasche 1948, 29-212.
  18. 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.

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