Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Líkn 37VII

George S. Tate (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut 37’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 271-3.

Anonymous PoemsLíknarbraut

Sæfðu lamb guðs lofðar
ljóst (hafa þess í brjóstum)
ok ert enn í slíku
altári (lög sára),
því at lautviðir létu
lastbundnir helgasta
linns, þá er lausn gaf mönnum,
lífs fórn á þik borna.

Lofðar sæfðu ljóst lamb guðs — hafa {þess lög sára} í brjóstum — ok ert enn altári í slíku, því at {lastbundnir{linns laut}viðir} létu helgasta fórn lífs, þá er gaf mönnum lausn, borna á þik.

Men slaughtered the radiant Lamb of God — they have {its sea of wounds} [BLOOD] in their breasts — and you are still an altar in such [offering], for {sin-bound trees {of the serpent’s dell}} [(lit. ‘dell-trees of the serpent’) GOLD > MEN] caused the holiest sacrifice of life, that which gave men liberation, to be placed upon you.

Mss: B(12r), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [1] lamb: so 399a‑bˣ, ‘[...]amb’ B

Editions: Skj AII, 157, Skj BII, 170, Skald II, 89-90, NN §§1397, 2331; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 46-7, Rydberg 1907, 17-18, 51, Tate 1974, 82.

Notes: [All]: The Cross as altar (altári, l. 4), on which the Lamb of God is sacrificed, is a frequent Christian image. See, e.g., the final st. of Fortunatus’ Vexilla regis which begins Salve, ara, salve victima ‘Hail, altar, hail, victim’ (Bulst 1956, 129), and st. 5 of the sequence Laudes crucis attollamus, attr. Adam of S. Victor (C12th) O quam felix, quam praeclara / Fuit haec salutis ara / Rubens agni sanguine ‘O how blessed, O how famous, was this altar of salvation, growing red with the blood of the Lamb’ (AH 54, 188; cf. AH 8, 26 and 30). The idea occurs also in Icel. liturgical mss: ara crucis ‘altar of the Cross’ in De sancta cruce missa, AM 98 I 8° (C13th, Gjerløw 1980, I, 35) and tu amara crucis ara ‘you bitter altar of the Cross’ in the hymn for Vespers, attr. Bonaventure (C13th), in AM 241 a fol (early C14th, Gjerløw 1980, I, 223); cf. Gimsteinn 104/1 Alltare erttu gudz ‘you are the altar of God’ (ÍM I.2, 327). — [1] lamb guðs ‘Lamb of God’: Restoration of <l> based upon 399a-bˣ and alliteration; a kenning-like formulation from Lat. agnus Dei, based on John I.29. — [2] ljóst ‘radiant’: Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 46 and Rydberg 1907, 51 construe as adv. ‘brightly’ with hafa ‘have’ (l. 2). — [2] hafa ‘they have’: Ms. ‘h’ with superscript ‘a’; NN §1397 suggests reading ms. abbreviation as hefr ‘(you) have’, agreeing with an implied 2nd pers. subj.; cf. ert (ms. ertu) (l. 3). While addressing the intercalary clause to the Cross would accord with frequent descriptions of the altar covered with blood, the pl. í brjóstum ‘in (their) breasts’ supports the pl. verb. In NN §1397 Kock renders þess ‘its’ (l. 2) as ‘for its sake’ but in §1397 construes it as a rel. pron. referring to lamb (l. 1). — [3-4] ert enn altári í slíku ‘you are still an altar in such [offering]’: The inexactness of í slíku ‘in such (a thing)’ makes the phrase somewhat vague; the reference may be to the role of the Cross in the eucharistic offering of the mass, which symbolically renews the sacrifice of the Lamb. — [4] altári ‘altar’: The second <a> is long, as in Lat. altāri. The noun occurs four times in skaldic poetry, but only here in a rhyme position. — [5-8]: The same alliterative pattern (‘l’) occurs throughout the helmingr, echoing that of the st.’s first couplet. The recurrence of ‘l’, not only in regular alliteration but elsewhere (slíku, l. 3; altári, lög, l. 4; helgasta, l. 6), continually ties the st. back to the lamb ‘Lamb’ (l. 1). — [6, 5, 7] lastbundnir lautviðir linns ‘sin-bound dell-trees of the serpent [GOLD > MEN]’: Laut ‘dell’, is a small, wooded hollow or valley, by extension simply ‘land’. Analogous to lastbundnir ‘sin-bound’ is bönd glæpa ‘bonds of sin’ 30/1-2 (cf. Prov. V.22). The combination here of tree, serpent, and sin may be consciously intended to evoke the fall of Adam. If so, the st. has an implicit typological structure, counterbalancing Adam (figura Christi, Rom. V.14) with Christ (the New Adam, 1 Cor. XV.45-9), the Tree of Knowledge with the Tree of Life (the Cross), and original sin with its remedy through the atonement of Christ, the helgasta fórn lífs ‘holiest sacrifice of life’ (ll. 6, 8). From Origen forward, the exegetical and iconographic tradition has placed Adam’s grave (as represented by a skull, see Kirschbaum et al. 1968-76, IV, 343) on Calvary at the foot of the Cross, so that the blood of the Second Adam pours over the first, prefiguring for Adam and his posterity liberation from death and the effects of sin. — [7] lausn ‘liberation, release’: Within the helmingr’s pattern of contrasts, the noun lausn (from leysa ‘to loosen, unbind’) plays against, and provides the solution for, lastbundnir ‘sin-bound’ (cf. lausnari ‘releaser, redeemer’).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. 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.
  5. Bulst, Walther, ed. 1956. Hymni latini antiquissimi LXXV, Psalmi III. Heidelberg: Kerle.
  6. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  7. Tate, George S. 1974. ‘Líknarbraut: A Skaldic Drápa on the Cross’. Ph.D. thesis. Cornell University. DAI 35:6112A.
  8. Gjerløw, Lilli. 1980. Liturgica Islandica. 2 vols. BA 35-6. Copenhagen: Reitzel.
  9. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  10. Kirschbaum, Engelbert et al., eds. 1968-76. Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie. 8 vols. Rpt. 1990-8. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder.
  11. 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.
  12. Internal references
  13. Kari Ellen Gade (ed.) 2017, ‘Snorri Sturluson, Háttatal 60’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 1169.

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