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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gestumbl Heiðr 19VIII (Heiðr 66)

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.

GestumblindiHeiðreks gátur

Hverjar eru þær drósir,         er um dróttin sinn
        vápnlausar vega?
Inar jarpari         hlífa um alla daga,
        en inar fegri fara.
Heiðrekr konungr,         hyggðu at gátu.

Hverjar eru þær drósir, er vega vápnlausar um dróttin sinn? Inar jarpari hlífa um alla daga, en inar fegri fara. Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.

Who are those girls, who fight weaponless around their lord? The darker ones protect [him] during all the days, but the fairer ones go forth [to attack]. King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.

Mss: 2845(71v), 281ˣ(100r), 597bˣ(50r), R715ˣ(28r) (ll. 1-3, 5-6) (Heiðr)

Readings: [1] drósir: so R715ˣ, brúðir all others    [2] um: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, R715ˣ, om. 2845;    dróttin sinn: sinn dróttinn all    [3] vápnlausar: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, R715ˣ, vápnlausan 2845    [4] jarpari: ‘jorpsku’ 281ˣ, 597bˣ    [5] hlífa: ‘lifa’ 281ˣ, 597bˣ;    um: om. 281ˣ, 597bˣ    [6] fara: frýja 281ˣ, 597bˣ, R715ˣ    [7-8] abbrev. as ‘h k̄ h’ 2845, abbrev. as ‘heidr: k:’ 281ˣ, abbrev. as ‘h Kongr’ 597bˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 223-4, Skj BII, 242, Skald II, 126, NN §2833; Heiðr 1672, 147, FSN 1, 473, Heiðr 1873, 249, 338, Heiðr 1924, 68, 71, 134, FSGJ 2, 43, Heiðr 1960, 37-8; Edd. Min. 113.

Notes: [All]: Heiðrekr’s response reads (Heiðr 1960, 38): þat er hnettafl; inar døkkri verja hnefann, en hvítar sœkja ‘that is hnefatafl; the darker defend the hnefi, but the white ones attack’. The H redaction reads (Heiðr 1924, 71): þat er hneftafl; tǫflur drepaz vápnalausar um hnefann ok fylgja honum enar rauðu ‘that is hneftafl; the töflur kill each other without weapons around the hnefi, and the red ones escort him’. Hnefatafl (also called hneftafl or just tafl ‘tables’, an earlier and generic word for board-games) was a game played on a square grid with an odd number of rows per side, leaving a distinct centre square on which stood the hnefi or ‘king’ piece. The hnefi was surrounded by his defenders, outnumbered by the opposing attacking pieces, which started the game on the outer squares of the board, in a 2:1 ratio. The object for the defending side was for the king to reach the outer edge of the board, while the attacking side could win by capturing the hnefi. Evidence of the playing of the game has been found throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles, with analogues in other Northern European cultures. It is mentioned in several places in Old Norse literature, often as an indicator of the players’ status, including in Vsp 8, which relates that the Æsir teflðo ‘played tafl’ in the Golden Age early in the world’s history (Vsp 61 tells that their playing-pieces will be once again discovered in the new world after Ragnarǫk), and in Rv Lv 1/1II, where the ability to play the game is listed among the íþróttir ‘skills’ of Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, jarl of Orkney. For further information see Helmfrid (2005), Bayless (2005), Murray (1913, 428-37; 1978, 58-64) and Fiske (1905). — [All]: Cf. Heiðr 73 and 79, which also refer to aspects of the game tafl. — [1] drósir ‘girls’: All mss except R715ˣ have brúðir ‘women, brides’; cf. Heiðr 71/1, which lacks alliteration. Skj B, Edd. Min. and Heiðr 1960 emend to snótir ‘ladies’ (cf. Heiðr 68/1); this is without ms. support. Skald prefers drósir, as here. — [2] sinn dróttin ‘their lord’: Reversing the mss’ order of these two words restores a metrical line, an emendation also made by Skald. — [3] vápnlausar ‘weaponless’: The main ms., 2845, reads vápnlausan m. acc. sg., agreeing with dróttin, meaning it is the lord who is weaponless. The other mss agree on the f. nom. pl. form, however, supported by the solution in the H redaction, and this is also culturally more plausible, since women did not normally carry weapons while a lord normally would.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. FSN = Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1829-30. Fornaldar sögur nordrlanda. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  4. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. Heiðr 1672 = Verelius, Olaus, ed. 1672. Hervarar Saga på Gammel Gotska. Uppsala: Curio.
  7. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  8. 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.
  9. Heiðr 1924 = Jón Helgason, ed. 1924. Heiðreks saga. Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs. SUGNL 48. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  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. Helmfrid, Sten. 2005. Hnefatafl – The Strategic Board Game of the Vikings. <>
  13. Bayless, Martha. 2005. ‘Alea, Tæfl, and Related Games: Vocabulary and Context’. In O’Brien O’Keeffe et al. 2005, 2, 9-27.
  14. Murray, H. J. R. 1913. A History of Chess. Oxford: Clarendon.
  15. Fiske, Willard. 1905. Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic Literature, with Historical Notes on Other Table Games. Florence: The Florentine Typographical Society.
  16. Internal references
  17. Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 73 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 26)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 440.
  18. 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.
  19. Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 71 (Gestumblindi, Heiðreks gátur 24)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 437.
  20. Not published: do not cite ()
  21. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2009, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 576-7.

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