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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (FoGT) 18III

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Lausavísur, Stanzas from the Fourth Grammatical Treatise 18’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 593.

Anonymous LausavísurStanzas from the Fourth Grammatical Treatise


These three stanzas are cited in illustration of the figure euphonia, the alteration of speech sounds to make them more pleasing to the ear. The prose text of FoGT offers a definition according to what the figure is not; it is said to be the opposite of cacenphaton, a harsh-sounding word or phrase, a mode of definition that was already in its sources (see discussion by Longo, FoGT 2004, 192-7). The metre of all three stanzas is dróttkvætt, most comparable to the sub-type of áttmælt ‘eight-times spoken’ that is designated in Ht (SnE 2007, 42, 77-8) as fjórðungalok ‘couplets’ closure’ in mss and U of SnE, where a stanza is divided into four discrete couplets. SnSt Ht 11 (SnE 2007, 9-10) provides a close structural parallel to sts 18-20 and may have been their model. Jón Helgason (1970a) offers a textual and phonological analysis of these stanzas, and points out that they all play on words whose root vowels are [a:], [o:], [æ:], i-umlaut of [a:] and [ø:], i-umlaut of [o:]. Jón argues that this concentration indicates the poet’s fascination with a phonological change that took place in the mid-thirteenth century, namely the unrounding of [ø:] to [æ:], a change he thought the poet disapproved of, possibly because of what the prose text says about the figure of euphonia (see Context to st. 18), though this opinion is in fact taken straight from TGT and so does not support his argument. Jón Helgason (1970a, 208) goes on to suggest that whoever composed these stanzas could have been born as early as 1199 or 1200, composing these stanzas in his old age. He also thought, presumably because some parts of the stanzas are semi-proverbial, that they were written down from oral tradition, although this seems very doubtful. While Jón Helgason’s general conclusions do not seem particularly convincing (there is no reason why the poet’s play on certain long vowels should imply an old man’s disapproval of the unrounding of [ø:] to [æ:]), his analysis of individual stanzas is often enlightening, and has been referred to where relevant in the Notes to each one.

text and translation

Því veldr ár, að ærir
akr búmanna spakra;
æra verðr með árum
undan dólga fundi.
Ræða gengr af ráða
runa systir ólystug;
órar dregr að ærum
ýtum skemða flýtir.

Ár veldr því, að akr spakra búmanna ærir; verðr æra með árum undan fundi dólga. {Ræða systir runa} gengr ólystug af ráða; {flýtir skemða} dregr órar að ærum ýtum.
‘Year’s abundance is the reason that the field of wise farmers gives a good crop; one has to row with oars away from a meeting with enemies. The sister of the boar, on heat [SOW], goes unwilling from the hog; the breeder of shameful deeds [DEVIL] causes fits of madness to crazy men.

notes and context

See Introduction to sts 18-20. After the author of FoGT has introduced the figure of euphonia, he refers to what Óláfr [Þórðarson] has said on the subject in TGT (TGT 1884, 49-50; Wills 2001, 88-91 and 182-3), though his words are not exactly the same as the relevant part of the TGT text, which is only in W: Olaafr seger ok: evphonia verðr þar sem [vfagrer] limingar stafer erv skipter i þáá stafí, sem fegra hlioða, sem i þersvm nofnvm: lækr ok  ægr, þviat æ þikker hvarvitna lyta maal, nema þar sem skynsemí mꜳ̋ fyrer giallda, at þav orð, sem þat stendr í, dreifaz af þeim orðvm sem ꜳ̋ stendr í, sem her seger ‘Óláfr also says: Euphonia occurs wherever [unpleasing] ligatures are changed into those letters that sound more beautiful, as in these nouns: lækr and ægr, because [æ:] is everywhere thought to blemish speech, except where reason may explain that those words in which that [ligature] is found, are derived from those words containing [a:], as it says here’.

Stanza 18, which is arranged as four discrete, somewhat aphoristic couplets, very artfully provides several examples of words containing the ligature [æ:] and corresponding cognates with stem vowel [a:]. These are all found in the uneven ll. 1, 3, 5 and 7. In l. 1 we have ár ‘year’s abundance’ and ærir, 3rd pers. sg. pres. tense used impersonally, from æra ‘give a good crop’; in l. 3 æra ‘row with oars’ matches árum ‘with oars’, while in l. 5 ræða ‘on heat’ yields to ráða (from ráði ‘hog, boar’), both phonetically and in terms of sense. In l. 7 órar ‘fits of madness’ balances ærum (from ærr, earlier œrr ‘mad, crazy’ adj.). In the last case the correspondence is between [o:] and original [ø:]; cf. AEW: órar 1 and œrr.



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: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], D. 3. Vers af den 4. grt. afhandling 12: AII, 216, BII, 233-4, Skald II, 121; SnE 1848-87, II, 216-17, III, 158, FoGT 1884, 134, 265-6, FoGT 2004, 42, 69, 115-6, FoGT 2014, 22-3, 98-101.


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