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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (FoGT) 23III

Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Anonymous Lausavísur, Stanzas from the Fourth Grammatical Treatise 23’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 599.

Anonymous LausavísurStanzas from the Fourth Grammatical Treatise


Stanzas 23-7 constitute an ingenious set of stanzas illustrating the rhetorical figure of antitheton, the separation of words constituting a clause within a stanza so that the first words and the last go together and constitute a complete utterance. The chapter begins with the author of FoGT citing two stanzas of SnSt Ht (sts 14 and 12). In Ht 14 the first two words of l. 1 belong with the last word of l. 8, and the FoGT author names the phenomenon using the Icelandic term langlokum ‘with late closures’; Ht 12 illustrates the native practice called stælt ‘inlaid, intercalated’ (cf. SnE 2007, 78, 152) with two intercalated clauses in each helmingr at ll. 2-3 and 6-7. The remaining ever more complex illustrations of antitheton comprise sts 23-7, a virtuoso exercise that seems to have appealed to the author of FoGT, whether or not he was also the composer of the stanzas. Longo (2006a) offers a close analysis of these stanzas from a rhetorical perspective, but he endorses Björn Magnússon Ólsen’s view (FoGT 1884, 275 n. 7) that they exemplify a new rhetorical creation on the Fourth Grammarian’s part. This is unlikely to be the case. Aside from the stanzas cited from Ht, there is one earlier example of the technique illustrated in st. 25 (see Note [All] to that stanza), a fragment by the eleventh-century Icelandic skald Þórðr Sjáreksson (ÞSjár Frag 3), which suggests that it was an established practice of Icelandic poets, though not elsewhere recorded. The metre of st. 23 is hrynhent, while sts 24 and 27 are in a variety of tøglag that is called inn nýi háttr ‘the new verse-form’ in SnSt Ht 73 (SnE 2007, 31), from where the composer of the FoGT stanzas almost certainly borrowed it, and sts 25-6 are in runhent.

text and translation

Ólafr kunni blóthús brenna,
Bráðan hitti Magnús váða,
Harald frágum vier hjörleiks mildan,
Hans arfi tók nú við starfa,
dróttar vinr fekk helverk hættan.
hníga riett á enskri sliettu.
sóttum píndr, þá er örlög enduz.
ágætt fall sá er hlaut til vallar.

Ólafr, sá er hlaut ágætt fall til vallar, kunni brenna blóthús. Magnús hitti bráðan váða, píndr sóttum, þá er örlög enduz. Vier frágum Harald, mildan {hjörleiks}, hníga riett á enskri sliettu. Arfi hans tók nú við starfa; {vinr dróttar} fekk hættan helverk.
‘Óláfr, who got a famous fall to the ground [death], burnt sacrificial buildings. Magnús encountered sudden danger, tormented by illness, when his fortunes came to an end. We [I] have heard that Haraldr, generous with sword-play [BATTLE], certainly fell on an English field. His heir now took on the business [of government]; the friend of the people [RULER = Magnús or Óláfr Haraldsson] contracted a dangerous mortal illness.

notes and context

Stanza 23 is the third example of antitheton, which the prose text explains contains multiple examples of separated parts of clauses.

The theme of each complete sentence in the stanza is the manner of death of one of four kings of Norway, two in battle, the other two from illness. — As the prose text explains after the citation of st. 23, there are four complete sentences in this stanza. Line 1 is completed by l. 8, l. 2 by l. 7, l. 3 by l. 6, while ll. 4 and 5 go together. This ingenious arrangement of clauses appears not to have a precise precedent in earlier Icelandic treatises on poetics like SnSt Ht or RvHbreiðm Hl. — [1, 8]: This clause is about King Óláfr inn helgi ‘the Saint’ Haraldsson (r. 1015-30) who died at the battle of Stiklestad in Verdalen, Trøndelag, on 29 July 1030. The reference to his burning down blóthús ‘sacrificial buildings’ (l. 1) alludes to his role in combatting heathenism and introducing Christianity to the people of Norway. — [8]: The line echoes Anon (HSig) 9/3, 4II, a stanza allegedly spoken by Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson.



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 17: AII, 217, BII, 234-5, Skald II, 121; SnE 1848-87, II, 222-3, III, 159, FoGT 1884, 137, 274-5, FoGT 2004, 45-6, 71, 128-3, FoGT 2014, 26-9, 110-11.


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