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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gamlkan Has 43VII

Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Gamli kanóki, Harmsól 43’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 111-12.

Gamli kanókiHarmsól

Ræfrs esat lǫngu lífi
lungbeitǫndum heitit
— raun finna þess runnar
randéls — af gram landa.
Þvís hringstyrjar hverjum
hag sinn með trú fagri
yngra þoll ok ellra
einsætt at vel hreinsi.

{Lungbeitǫndum} esat heitit lǫngu lífi af {gram {ræfrs landa}}; {runnar {randéls}} finna raun þess. Þvís einsætt {hverjum þoll {hringstyrjar}}, yngra ok ellra, at hreinsi vel hag sinn með fagri trú.

{Ship-steerers} [MEN] are not promised long life by {the prince {of the roof of lands}} [SKY/HEAVEN > = God]; {bushes {of the shield-storm}} [BATTLE > WARRIORS] gain experience of that. Therefore it is evident {to each fir-tree {of the sword-din}} [BATTLE > WARRIOR], to young and old, that he should thoroughly purify his state with beautiful faith.

Mss: B(13r), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [2] lungbeitǫndum: ‘lunndbeitundum’ B    [3] raun: ‘rum’ B;    þess: þat B, 399a‑bˣ    [5] hringstyrjar: ‘hringstyr[...] a’ B, ‘hringstyri a’ 399a‑bˣ

Editions: Skj AI, 568, Skj BI, 559, Skald I, 271; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 27, Kempff 1867, 13, Nj 1875-8, II, 356, Rydberg 1907, 27, Jón Helgason 1935-36, 259, Black 1971, 247, Attwood 1996a, 232.

Notes: [1-4] gram ræfrs landa ‘prince of the roof of lands [SKY/HEAVEN = God]’: Cf. Leið 10/1-2, where God is characterised as vǫrðr vallræfrs ‘guardian of the plain-roof’. — [2] lungbeitǫndum ‘to ship-steerers [MEN]’: It is not possible to make sense of B’s reading ‘lunndbeitundum’. Sveinbjörn Egilsson (note to 444ˣ transcript and 1844, 27 n. 5) corrects to lungbeitǫndum, which has been adopted by all subsequent eds. — [4] randéls af gram landa: B’s reading of the first word is quite clear here, though Skj B and Kempff emend to randelds ‘of the shield-fire’. B’s reading is perhaps confirmed by the similar l. brandél á Girklandi in Geisl 51/2. — [5] þvís hringstyrjar hverjum: The ms. reading ‘því er hringstýr…a huerium’ is rather problematical. Konráð Gíslason suggested that the l. originally read ‘því er hrings fira hverjum’, but had been garbled in transmission. He postulated the arrangement því er fira hverjum, hrings yngra þoll ok ellra ‘therefore is to each man, the younger tree of the ring and the older’. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, followed by Kempff, adopted the 399a-bˣ reading ‘hringstyre’ (from hring stýri), overlooking the final ‘a’ in B. Finnur Jónsson, who read ‘hringstyre a’ (Skj A), emended to hringskúrar (‘of the ring [i.e. sword]-shower’), giving a battle- and (with þollr ‘fir-tree’) a warrior-kenning. Rydberg (1907, lxxiii) suggested a palaeographical solution to this difficulty. The scribe, he notes, uses <e> and <i> in word-final position without distinction. Rydberg suggests that the copyist interpreted the final <i> in ‘hringstýri’ as a final vowel, and altered it to an ‘e’ which is now lost in B. The <i> was in fact consonantal and was followed either by <a> (as the remains in B suggest) or by an ar abbreviation. The reading is then hringstýrjar (gen. sg.) ‘of sword-din’, which gives a man-kenning þollr hringstýrjar ‘tree of the sword-din’. Rydberg’s suggestion is perhaps confirmed by 399a-bˣ’s reading ‘hringstýri a’, which suggests that confusion over consonantal <i> (not, we note, normalised to <e>) originated with the B copyist. Rydberg’s elegant solution is adopted by Jón Helgason (1935-6, 259), Kock and Black, as well as here. — [5] hag ‘state’: This word, which is difficult to translate adequately, occurs several times in Has, always with reference to the effects of sin on a man’s spiritual condition. Its resonances appear to be at once specific (as in 49/2) and general (12/6-8), and it seems to refer to situations palpable (49/2) and psychological (23/7, 43/6). In his confession of sin in thought, word and deed (st. 12), Gamli admits that margir hagir mínir sýnask mér meginljótir ‘many of my actions seem to me extremely ugly’ (12/6-8). The penitent thief fears that, unless Christ listens to his pleas for mercy, ek á til hættan hag ‘I am in a rather too perilous situation’ (23/7). Similarly, in st. 49, King David is said to have decided to ask God for mercy eftir þungan hag ‘after his grevious (lit. ‘heavy’) sinfulness’ (49/2), hagr presumably being used to allude to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah the Hittite (see Note to st. 48).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj A = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15a. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. A: Tekst efter håndskrifterne. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1967. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  4. Nj 1875-89 = Konráð Gíslason and Eiríkur Jónsson. 1875-89. Njála: Udgivet efter gamle håndskrifter. Íslendingasögur udgivne efter gamle haandskrifter af Det Kongelige Nordiske Oldskrift-selskab 4. Copenhagen: Thiele.
  5. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  6. Attwood, Katrina. 1996a. ‘The Poems of MS AM 757a 4to: An Edition and Contextual Study’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Leeds.
  7. Black, Elizabeth L. 1971. ‘Harmsól: an edition’. B. Litt. thesis. University of Oxford.
  8. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  9. Jón Helgason. 1935-6. ‘Til skjaldedigtningen’. APS 10, 250-64.
  10. Kempff, Hjalmar, ed. 1867. Kaniken Gamles ‘Harmsól’ (Sol i Sorgen): isländskt andligt qväde från medeltiden med öfversättning och förklaringar. Uppsala: Edquist & Berglund.
  11. Sveinbjörn Egilsson, ed. 1844. Fjøgur gømul kvæði. Boðsrit til að hlusta á þá opinberu yfirheyrslu í Bessastaða Skóla þann 22-29 mai 1844. Viðeyar Klaustri: prentuð af Helga Helgasyni, á kostnað Bessastaða Skóla. Bessastaðir: Helgi Helgason.
  12. Internal references
  13. Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Leiðarvísan 10’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 149-50.
  14. Katrina Attwood 2007, ‘ Gamli kanóki, Harmsól’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 70-132. <> (accessed 22 September 2021)
  15. Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 51’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 48-9.

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