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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gestumbl Heiðr 18VIII (Heiðr 65)

Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 65 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 18)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 429.

GestumblindiHeiðreks gátur

Hverjar eru þær rýgjar         á reginfjalli,
        elr við kván kona?
Mær við meyju         mög um getr,
        ok eigut þær varðir vera.
Heiðrekr konungr,         hyggðu at gátu.

Hverjar eru þær rýgjar á reginfjalli, kona elr við kván? Mær um getr mög við meyju, ok þær varðir eigut vera. Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.

Who are those women on the mighty mountain, woman begets with woman? A girl begets a son with a girl, and those women do not have husbands. King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.

Mss: 2845(71r), 281ˣ(100r), 597bˣ(50r), R715ˣ(27v) (ll. 1-2, 5-6) (Heiðr)

Readings: [1] rýgjar: ‘Ryger’ 281ˣ, ‘Rygier’ 597bˣ, ‘eygar’ corrected from ‘ey(?)i[…]’ in the hand of JR R715ˣ    [3] kona: ‘kvona’ 597bˣ    [4] Mær: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, þar 2845;    við: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, til 2845;    meyju: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, er 2845    [5] um: om. R715ˣ;    getr: ‘gietur of gonn’ corrected from ‘gietur yfir garn’ in the hand of JR R715ˣ    [6] ok: kvenna R715ˣ;    eigut: eigi 281ˣ, 597bˣ, eigur R715ˣ;    þær: þær þess 281ˣ, 597bˣ, þat R715ˣ;    vera: at vera 281ˣ, 597bˣ    [7-8] abbrev. as ‘h kr h’ 2845, abbrev. as ‘heidr: kr:’ 281ˣ, abbrev. as ‘h: K:’ 597bˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 223, Skj BII, 242, Skald II, 125; Heiðr 1672, 146, FSN 1, 471, Heiðr 1873, 248-9, 337, Heiðr 1924, 65, 70, 133-4, FSGJ 2, 42, Heiðr 1960, 36; Edd. Min. 113.

Context: In the H redaction, before propounding the riddle Gestumblindi says (Heiðr 1924, 70): liðar verðr sá at leita, er lítit sax hefir ok mjǫk er fáfróðr, ok vilda ek enn tala fleira, eða … ‘He who has a small short-sword and is very short of knowledge must seek the joint, but I would like to speak yet more, so …’. (A similar proverb occurs in Saxo 2015, I, v. 3. 12, pp. 284-5). The implication is that Gestumblindi/Óðinn could seek the easiest way out, i.e. by propounding his unanswerable question (Heiðr 84), but that he is enjoying the contest and intends to prolong it.

Notes: [All]: Heiðrekr’s response is (Heiðr 1960, 36): þat eru hvannir tvær ok hvannarkálfr á milli þeira ‘That is two angelicas and a young angelica [lit. angelica-calf] between them’. Two species of angelica are native to Iceland: garden angelica (angelica archangelica) and wild angelica (angelica sylvestris/sylvatica). It was traditionally an important food and medicinal plant in Iceland and elsewhere in Scandinavia: on historical uses and for other references in Old Norse texts see Fosså (2006) and Guðrún P. Helgadóttir (1981). — [1] hverjar eru þær … ‘who are those …’: This opening formula, followed by a word meaning ‘women’ or similar, appears in the following six riddles, Gestumbl Heiðr 19-24 (Heiðr 66-71). — [1] rýgjar ‘women’: Plays with alternate meanings of the word: ‘women’ and ‘giantesses’ (LP: rýgr). Together with the reginfjalli ‘mighty mountain’ of l. 2, this creates two layers of imagery: both of angelica growing wild and of giantesses in their traditional dwelling-place. — [2] reginfjalli ‘mighty mountain’: A hap. leg. as a cpd. — [4-5]: Angelica’s main method of reproduction is seeding; plants can self-seed (Garland 2004, 31). Vegetative reproduction of the various sub-species of angelica is not well-documented in modern sources, but there is substantial evidence that the plant will produce off-shoots in or after its second year, especially if it is cut back (e.g. Ojala 1985, 193; Grieve 1931; Garland 2004, 31-2; Small 2006, 164-5), perhaps particularly in cooler climates (Vashistha et al. 2009, 76; Billings 1974, 434). This latter habit seems to be what is meant by the imagery of the riddle and the solution. — [5]: The H-redaction reading is clearly superior here, metrically as well as in terms of effect, to 2845’s þar til er ‘until’. — [6]: The same line is found in Heiðr 68/6, where the solution is ‘waves’. — [6] varðir (nom. sg. vǫrð) ‘women’: Poetic word (ONP: vǫrð).


  1. Bibliography
  2. FSN = Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1829-30. Fornaldar sögur nordrlanda. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. ONP = Degnbol, Helle et al., eds. 1989-. A Dictionary of Old Norse Prose / Ordbog over det norrøne prosasprog. 1-. Copenhagen: The Arnamagnæan Commission.
  5. Heiðr 1672 = Verelius, Olaus, ed. 1672. Hervarar Saga på Gammel Gotska. Uppsala: Curio.
  6. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  7. Edd. Min. = Heusler, Andreas and Wilhelm Ranisch, eds. 1903. Eddica Minora: Dichtungen eddischer Art aus den Fornaldarsögur und anderen Prosawerken. Dortmund: Ruhfus. Rpt. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
  8. Heiðr 1924 = Jón Helgason, ed. 1924. Heiðreks saga. Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs. SUGNL 48. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  9. Guðrún P. Helgadóttir. 1981. ‘Laukagarðr’. In Dronke et al. 1981, 171-4.
  10. Heiðr 1960 = Tolkien, Christopher, ed. and trans. 1960. Saga Heiðreks konungs ins vitra / The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. Nelson Icelandic Texts. London etc.: Nelson.
  11. Heiðr 1873 = Bugge, Sophus, ed. 1873. Hervarar saga ok Heidreks. Det Norske oldskriftselskabs samlinger 17. Christiania (Oslo): Brøgger.
  12. Fosså, Ove. 2006. ‘Angelica: From Norwegian Mountains to the English Trifle’. In Hosking 2006, 131-42.
  13. Garland, Sarah. 2004. The Complete Book of Herbs and Spices. Rev. paperback edn. London: Frances Lincoln.
  14. Ojala, Arja. 1985. ‘Variation of Angelica archangelica subsp. archangelica (Apiaceae) in Northern Fennoscandia. 2. Phenological Life Strategy and Reproductive Output’. Annales Botanici Fennici 22, 183-94.
  15. Grieve, Maud. 1931. A Modern Herbal. London: Cape.
  16. Billings, W. Dwight. 1974. ‘Plant Adaptations to Cold Summer Climates’. In Ives et al. 1974, 403-43.
  17. Small, Ernest. 2006. Culinary Herbs. 2nd edn. Ottawa: National Research Council of Canada.
  18. Saxo 2015 = Friis-Jensen, Karsten, ed. 2015. Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes. Trans. Peter Fisher. Oxford Medieval Texts. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
  19. Internal references
  20. Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 66 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 19)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 430.
  21. Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 68 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 21)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 433.
  22. Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 84 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 37)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 451.

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