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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gestumbl Heiðr 25VIII (Heiðr 72)

Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 72 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 25)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 438.

GestumblindiHeiðreks gátur

text and translation

Fara ek sá         foldar moldbúa;
        á sat nár á nái;
blindr reið blindum         brimleiðar til;
        jór var andar vanr.
Heiðrekr konungr,         hyggðu at gátu.

Ek sá moldbúa foldar fara; á sat nár á nái; blindr reið blindum til {brimleiðar}; jór var vanr andar. Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.
‘ I saw a soil-dweller <snake> of the earth travelling; a corpse sat on a corpse; a blind thing rode on a blind thing to the surf-way [SEA]; the steed was lacking in breath. King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.

notes and context

In the H redaction, before propounding this riddle, Gestumblindi says, in response to Heiðrekr’s comment after the previous riddle (see Heiðr 72, Note to [All]) (Heiðr 1924, 73): tregr em ek þess, en þó væntir mik, at þar komi nú skjótt ‘I am reluctant for that [i.e. submitting to the judgement of the counsellors], but yet I expect that it will now come quickly’. In TGT, ll. 1-3 illustrate the figure of enigma, defined (TGT 1884, 114): Enigma ær myrkt sen vm leynda liking | lvtanna, sem her ‘Enigma is obscure sense on account of the hidden likeness of things, as here’. Following quotation of the riddle we are told (ibid.): þæskonar figvrv kǫllvm ver gátv, ok ær hon iafnan sett í skalldskap ‘this kind of figure we call gáta [‘riddle’], and it is always rendered in poetry’.

Heiðrekr’s response is (Heiðr 1960, 37): þar fanntu hest dauðan á ísjaka ok orm dauðan á hestinum, ok rak þat allt saman eptir ánni ‘there you found a dead horse on an ice-floe and a dead snake on the horse, and all together that drifted along the river’ (the ms. reads ǫrn ‘eagle’ for orm ‘snake’, but this is clearly an error). The H redaction reaches the same solution in more words, but both appear to overinterpret the riddle: the jór ‘steed’ is the ice-floe, the means of conveyance for the moldbúi foldar ‘soil-dweller of the earth’, rather than a literal dead horse, and so ‘a dead serpent on an ice-floe’ solves the riddle by itself (Heiðr 1873, 358 n.). The U redaction offers (Heiðr 1924, 137): þar fanstu stein; hann mun hafa leigid i isiaka; steirn er molldbui; þetta muntu hafa rekid [emended to sied reka in Heiðr 1672, 150] allt samann a vatni; þar voru badir blindir og daudir ‘There you found a stone; it must have lain on an ice-floe; a stone is a soil-dweller; this you must have driven [‘seen driven’ with Verelius’ emendation] all together on the water; there were both the blind and the dead’. Though disappointingly mundane compared to the other redactions, this alternative admittedly addresses the description provided in the riddle. — [3]: All mss have two instances of á ‘on’ in this line; the first is likely pleonastic. No other eds have emended or commented on the problem.



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 11: AII, 223, BII, 242, Skald II, 125; Heiðr 1672, 150, FSN 1, 472, Heiðr 1873, 253, 337, Heiðr 1924, 66, 74, 137, FSGJ 2, 42, Heiðr 1960, 37 (Heiðr), TGT 1884, 31, 232, TGT 1927, 180, TGT 1998, 232 (TGT); Edd. Min. 115-16.


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