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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ólhv Frag 4III

Tarrin Wills (ed.) 2017, ‘Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson, Fragments 4’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 304.

Óláfr hvítaskáld ÞórðarsonFragments

text and translation

Flugu hrafnar tveir         af Hnikars ǫxlum;
Huginn til hanga,         en á hræ Muninn.

Tveir hrafnar flugu af ǫxlum Hnikars; Huginn til hanga, en Muninn á hræ.
‘Two ravens flew from Hnikarr’s <= Óðinn’s> shoulders; Huginn to the hanged one, and Muninn to the corpse.

notes and context

Cited as an example of prolepsis (‘prolemsis’), which Óláfr defines as follows (TGT 1927, 66): Prolemsis er uppnumning margfalligra hluta þeira, er síðan eru einfalliga greindirProlepsis is the anticipation of multiple things which later are recorded singly’, which seems to refer to the use of a verb in plural form for singular subjects (cf. OED: prolepsis 1). In order to clarify the point, Óláfr adds a prose word order rendering of the half-stanza, including the singular form of the verb (TGT 1927, 66): tveir hrafnar flugu af ǫxlum Hnikars, Huginn flaug til hanga en Muninn til hræs ‘two ravens flew from Hnikarr’s shoulders, Huginn flew to the hanged one and Muninn to the corpse’.

Óláfr uses a narrow definition of prolepsis, which Donatus defines (Holtz 1981, 663): Prolepsis est praesumptio rerum ordine secuturarum ‘Prolepsis is the presumption of things which [do not] follow the regular order’. Óláfr may have been confused by Sedulius Scottus (or a related work), who includes in the commentary on this definition (CCCM 40B, 361): Nam apud artium scriptores prior singularis quam pluralis numerus. — Björn Magnússon Ólsen identifies a close parallel to this in a Latin commentary (the Admirantes gloss on Alexander of Villa Dei’s Doctrinale (c. 1199); cf. Introduction to Anon (FoGT)) on the figure of prolepsis (Thurot 1868, 267): Aquilae volaverunt, iste ab oriente, ille ab occidente ‘The eagles flew, one from the east, the other from the west’. The Admirantes gloss is C13th, but the example ultimately derives from Priscian’s discussion of syntax (Keil 1855-80, III, 125). The strong similarity, describing two birds associated with battle flying from different locations, suggests that Óláfr composed this on the model of the Latin example. The half-stanza nevertheless has an authentically mythological flavour: Huginn and Muninn are Óðinn’s ravens, as described in Gylf (SnE 2005, 32), and the fornyrðislag metre of this stanza is in keeping with eddic poetry on similar subjects. The source of the section in Gylf was likely Grí 20 (NK 61): Huginn oc Muninn | fliúga hverian dag | iǫrmungrund yfir; | óomc ec of Hugin, | at hann aptr né komið, | þó siámc meirr um Munin ‘Huginn and Muninn fly every day over the vast expanse; I fear for Huginn that he will not come back, but I am more afraid for Muninn’. The present helmingr is not included in Skj and Skald.


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

SnE 1818, 322, SnE 1848, 190, SnE 1848-87, II, 142-3, 417, TGT 1884, 23, 92, 204, TGT 1927, 66, 102, NK 321.


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