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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

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.

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

Readings: [3] ok er jarni: om. R715ˣ;    kringt: so 281ˣ, 597bˣ, kringr 2845, ‘krinkt’ R715ˣ    [5] ekki: ‘ejn’ 597bˣ    [6] fylgja: rennr 281ˣ, 597bˣ, ‘filgur’ R715ˣ;    því: sem 281ˣ, om. 597bˣ, R715ˣ;    margir: hann 281ˣ, 597bˣ, margr R715ˣ;    mjök: má 281ˣ, 597bˣ, om. R715ˣ    [7-8] abbrev. as ‘h k̄’ 2845, abbrev. as ‘heidr. kr’ 281ˣ, abbrev. as ‘hc Kongr h·’ 597bˣ

Editions: Skj AII, 224, Skj 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.

Notes: [All]: 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’. — [All]: Cf. Heiðr 66 and 79, which also refer to aspects of the game tafl. — [2] ‘flocks’: The animal imagery suggests that ‘flocks’ is the surface meaning, but plays also on the meaning ‘money, property’, suggesting that the game could be played for monetary stakes. This meaning is brought to the fore by the solution in the U redaction, which includes (Heiðr 1924, 135): hunrænir margann fie, þann er fie legur vid tafl ‘the húnn … plunders money from many a one who lays down money on tafl’. A clause in Grágás (K §233) forbids the playing of board games for money or other property. — [4] hefir átta horn ‘it has eight horns’: If the solution is to be interpreted as ‘die’ (see Note to [All] above), this line puns on two meanings of horn, ‘horns’ and ‘corners’, referring to the eight corners on a six-faced die. It is less clear what this line would refer to if the solution is ‘playing piece’, although Murray (1978, 61) suggested the solution to be the hnefi or ‘king’-piece, with the eight ‘horns’ being the eight defending pieces on a 7x7 board. — [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.


  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. Heiðr 1672 = Verelius, Olaus, ed. 1672. Hervarar Saga på Gammel Gotska. Uppsala: Curio.
  5. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  6. 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.
  7. Heiðr 1924 = Jón Helgason, ed. 1924. Heiðreks saga. Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs. SUGNL 48. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  8. 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.
  9. Heiðr 1873 = Bugge, Sophus, ed. 1873. Hervarar saga ok Heidreks. Det Norske oldskriftselskabs samlinger 17. Christiania (Oslo): Brøgger.
  10. Helmfrid, Sten. 2005. Hnefatafl – The Strategic Board Game of the Vikings. <>
  11. Murray, H. J. R. 1978. A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess. New York: Hacker Art Books. First published 1952. Oxford: Clarendon.
  12. Internal references
  13. 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.
  14. R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorbjǫrn hornklofi, Haraldskvæði (Hrafnsmál) 16’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 110.
  15. Not published: do not cite ()

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