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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

text and translation

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.

notes and 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.

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). — [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’.



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. 5. Heiðreks gátur 10: AII, 223, 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.


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