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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gestumbl Heiðr 26VIII (Heiðr 73)

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.

GestumblindiHeiðreks gátur

text and translation

Hvat er þat dýra,         er drepr fé manna,
        ok er jarni kringt útan?
Horn hefir átta,         en höfuð ekki,
        ok fylgja því margir mjök.
Heiðrekr konungr,         hyggðu at gátu.

Hvat dýra er þat, er drepr fé manna, ok er kringt útan jarni? Hefir átta horn, en ekki höfuð, ok mjök margir fylgja því. Heiðrekr konungr, hyggðu at gátu.
‘What is the creature who slays men’s flocks and is surrounded outside with iron? It has eight horns, but no head, and a great many follow it. King Heiðrekr, think about the riddle.

notes and context

Heiðrekr’s response is (Heiðr 1960, 39): Þat er húnn í hnettafli ‘That is the húnn [lit. ‘bear-cub’] in hnefatafl’. The H redaction adds (Heiðr 1924, 75): hann heitir sem bjǫrn; hann rennr þegar er honum er kastat ‘he is called the same as a bear; he runs as soon as he is cast’. On hnefatafl see Heiðr 66, Note to [All]. There is some disagreement as to whether the húnn was a playing piece or a die. Fritzner: húnn cites this example, translating terning ‘die’, but hnefatafl is not thought to have been played with dice. However, the verb kasta ‘cast’ in the solution to the H redaction seems unlikely to be used of playing pieces (and cf. verpa ‘throw’, used with húnn in Þhorn Harkv 16/4I; see also Note). If the húnn is indeed a die, the riddle may refer to the game kvátrutafl or Icelandic tables, a game similar to backgammon, rather than to hnefatafl (Helmfrid 2005, 11). On the other hand, the U redaction reads þad er tafla ‘that is a playing piece’. — Cf. Heiðr 66 and 79, which also refer to aspects of the game tafl. — [6]: The H redaction has a variant half-line here: ok rennr sem hann má ‘and runs as he can’. Heiðr 1873 (254) emends to ok rennr, er renna má ‘and runs, when he can run’. This is adopted in Edd. Min. Although the line is corrupt in R715ˣ, its similarity to 2845’s reading supports 2845’s over that of the H-redaction mss.



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 16: AII, 224, BII, 243, Skald II, 126; Heiðr 1672, 147, FSN 1, 475-6, Heiðr 1873, 254, 339, Heiðr 1924, 71-2, 74-5, 134-5, FSGJ 2, 44, Heiðr 1960, 39; Edd. Min. 116.


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