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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Líkn 33VII

George S. Tate (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut 33’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 264-6.

Anonymous PoemsLíknarbraut

Skeið ert fróns und fríðum
farsæl konungs þrælum
fljót ok farmi ítrum
fóstrlands á vit strandar.
Þú snýr böls hjá bárum
— boðar kasta þér lasta —
lýðs und líknar auði
lífs hafnar til stafni.

Ert farsæl, fljót skeið und fríðum þrælum {konungs fróns} ok ítrum farmi á vit strandar fóstrlands. Þú snýr stafni hjá bárum böls til lífs hafnar und auði líknar lýðs; boðar lasta kasta þér.

You are a voyage-prosperous, swift warship bearing [lit. under] beloved servants {of the king of earth} [RULER = Christ] and a glorious cargo towards the shore of our native land. You turn your prow past the waves of evil to life’s haven bearing the wealth of grace for mankind; billows of vices toss you.

Mss: B(12r), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [3] fljót: so 399a‑bˣ, ‘fli[...]’ B

Editions: Skj AII, 156, Skj BII, 168-9, Skald II, 89; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 45, Rydberg 1907, 17, 51, Tate 1974, 78.

Notes: [All]: If Líkn had a second stefjamél ‘refrain section’ (see Note to st. 30), its first stef would occur here. Instead of a stef we encounter a ship, whose stafn ‘prow’ (etymologically connected to stef) guides surely to the heavenly port. — [1] skeið ‘ship’: Technically a warship of the long-ship (langskip) class (Falk 1912, 104-5; Jesch 2001a, 123-4). The noun can also mean ‘course, track’ (e.g. sunnu skeið ‘sun’s track’ in C14th Árni Gd 66/1IV), and the poet’s choice of word for ‘ship’ may be calculated to play on the Cross as braut ‘way’ (Líknarbraut) and on the poem’s frequent ‘way, path’ images (see Note to 51/4). The Cross as ship is a patristic and medieval commonplace, based mostly on commentary on Noah’s ark, which is usually glossed as the Ship of the Church, with the Cross as mast. But this is often simplified to the Cross itself as ship, as in a l. from the hymn Salve lignum sanctae crucis which addresses the Cross as: veri nautae vera nauta ‘true ship of the true seaman’ (AH 54, 194). Through reverse typology, Noah’s ark is sometimes represented as having been made from the wood of the Cross: ligno crucis fabricatur / Arca Noe (AH 8, 29). In the late medieval Gimsteinn 105/1 the Cross also makliga merkiʀ ‘fittingly symbolises’ Noah’s ark (ÍM I.2, 327). On the history of these ideas see Rahner 1964, 239-564 ‘Antenna crucis’. — [1-2] und fríðum þrælum ‘bearing [lit. under] beloved servants’: For fríðum 399a-bˣ reads firðum ‘fjords’; so Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 45 (although in a marginal note to 444 Sveinbjörn wrote fríðum). Und ‘under’ also governs the dat. farmi ‘cargo’ (l. 3) (on Christ as the cargo, and possibly as captain, see Notes to ll. 3 and 7). The ‘beloved servants’ are perhaps the saints or more generally the righteous, possibly even the clergy who guide the faithful. — [3] á vit strandar fóstrlands ‘toward the shore of our native land’: Cf. Pl 55/2. This is the only skaldic occurrence of fóstrland ‘foster-land, native land’ as heavenly homeland; cf. ad caelestem patriam ‘to the heavenly fatherland’ (AH 54, 194). Á vit, with gen., lit. ‘on a visit with’. — [3] fljót ‘swift’: Restoration of ‘ót’ based upon 399a-bˣ, with ‘t’ confirmed by skothending. The lit. sense ‘floating’ (from fljóta ‘to float’) suits the nautical context. — [3] ítrum farmi (dat. sg.) ‘glorious cargo’: 399a-bˣ, expanding the abbreviation differently, reads frami ‘forward, in front’; so also Sveinbjörn Egilsson. The cargo is either the crucified Christ or the salvation (cf. auðr líknar ‘wealth of grace’, l. 7) won by his suffering. The Cross is often called ‘salvation-bearing’ (crux salutifera), in liturgy (Manz 1941, 132, no. 213), poetry (Bonaventure 1882-1902, VIII, 667, st. 7), and elsewhere: e.g. Dungal (Dungalus Reclusus C9th), who, in defending the veneration of images, writes how hopeless it is for mankind to try to navigate the stormy sea of this world sine nave salutiferae crucis ‘without the ship of the salvation-bearing Cross’ (Dungalus Reclusus, col. 489). — [5] hjá bárum böls ‘past the waves of evil’: 399a-bˣ (so also Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 45) reads barmi ‘brim’; in a marginal note 444 has bárum (so all other eds). Together with boðar lasta ‘billows of vices’ the phrase, possibly a kenning-like circumlocution for sin, evokes the widespread idea that this world is like a perilous sea, its surging waves and raging storms representing various aspects of evil, by which mankind is easily shipwrecked. For discussion see Rahner 1964, 272-303 and 432-72; cf. the common liturgical phrase mare saeculi ‘sea of the world’ (Manz 1941, 291, no. 586). Fortunatus’ Pange lingua evokes this tradition in the ll.: Sola digna tu fuisti ferre pretium saecli / atque portum praeparare nauta mundo naufrago ‘You alone were worthy to bear the price of the world (Christ) and, like the seaman, to make ready a haven for a shipwrecked world’ (Bulst 1956, 128, st. 10); in later liturgical use nauta was replaced by arca ‘ark’ to strengthen the idea of the Cross as ship (see Connelly 1957, 85). — [6] boðar lasta kasta þér ‘billows of vices toss you’: Rydberg includes hjá böls bárum ‘past the waves of sin’ (l. 5) in this intercalary cl. Skj B and Skald add a negative particle (kastat ‘do not toss’), but this misses the point that the voyage is rough and that mankind’s only safety in such peril is the Cross and what it represents. Peter Chrysologus (C5th), e.g., writes that the ship tunditur ... non mergitur ‘is pounded but not sunk’ (Petrus Chrysologus, Sermo 21, col. 258); Augustine, too, describes the sea as so turbulent that even those who are borne upon the cross-tree can scarcely (vix) traverse it (Augustinus Hipponensis, Confessionum, I, XVI.25, col. 672; O’Donnell 1992, I, 12). The etymology of boði in a marine context is disputed. Most ON dictionaries see it as deriving from boða ‘to announce’ (boði ‘messenger, proclaimer’), i.e. a wave which, breaking over a submerged reef or skerry, ‘announces’ or ‘bodes’ the hidden rocks (so CVC, LP, and Fritzner). Ulvestad and Beeler 1957 believe this to be a folk etymology and conclude that it is ‘more appropriate to regard “submerged reef” (semantically unrelated to boða) as the primary meaning, and “wave” or “breaker” as the secondary’ (214). For yet another view, see AEW: boði 2. With the verb kasta ‘to throw, toss’, however, ‘billow’ seems the preferable sense; a ship that strikes a reef in a storm does not survive to continue its journey. It is possible that the poet is also playing on the lit. sense in which boðar lasta means simply ‘proclaimers, preachers of vices’; these, too, are sometimes associated with threatening waves, as in the Epistle of Jude, who likens false teachers to fluctus feri maris despumantes suas confusiones ‘waves of the raging sea, foaming out their own confusion’ (13). — [7] und auði líknar lýðs ‘bearing [lit. under] the wealth of grace for mankind’: A reference to Christ’s Passion and mankind’s consequent salvation, parallel to ítrum farmi ‘glorious cargo’ (l. 3). On ‘wealth of grace’, cf. the liturgical phrases copia miserationum ‘abundance of compassions’ and immensa clementia ‘immense mercy’ (Manz 1941, 124 §194; 225 §431).


  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. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. AEW = Vries, Jan de. 1962. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2nd rev. edn. Rpt. 1977. Leiden: Brill.
  5. LP = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1931. Lexicon poeticum antiquæ linguæ septentrionalis: Ordbog over det norsk-islandske skjaldesprog oprindelig forfattet af Sveinbjörn Egilsson. 2nd edn. Copenhagen: Møller.
  6. CVC = Cleasby, Richard, Gudbrand Vigfusson [Guðbrandur Vigfússon] and W. A. Craigie. 1957. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
  7. AH = Dreves, G. M., C. Blume and H. M. Bannister, eds. 1886-1922. Analecta hymnica medii aeui. 55 vols. Leipzig: Reisland. Rpt. 1961. New York: Johnson.
  8. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  9. Bonaventure, S. 1882-1902. Opera omnia. 11 vols. Ad Claras Aquas (Quaracchi): Collegium S. Bonaventurae.
  10. Bulst, Walther, ed. 1956. Hymni latini antiquissimi LXXV, Psalmi III. Heidelberg: Kerle.
  11. Connelly, Joseph. 1957. Hymns of the Roman Liturgy. Westminster, Maryland: Newman.
  12. Dungalus Reclusus. Dungali Responsa Contra Perversas Claudii Taurinensis Episcopi Sententias. In PL 105, cols 465-530.
  13. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  14. Tate, George S. 1974. ‘Líknarbraut: A Skaldic Drápa on the Cross’. Ph.D. thesis. Cornell University. DAI 35:6112A.
  15. Ulvestad, B. E. and M. S. Beeler. 1957. ‘On the Etymology of ON boði “submerged reef”’. ANF 72, 211-22.
  16. Falk, Hjalmar. 1912. Altnordisches Seewesen. Wörter und Sachen 4. Heidelberg: Winter.
  17. Fritzner = Fritzner, Johan. 1883-96. Ordbog over det gamle norske sprog. 3 vols. Kristiania (Oslo): Den norske forlagsforening. 4th edn. Rpt. 1973. Oslo etc.: Universitetsforlaget.
  18. O’Donnell, James J., ed. 1992. Augustine. Confessions. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon.
  19. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  20. Manz, Georg. 1941. Ausdrucksformen der lateinischen Liturgiesprache bis ins elfte Jahrhundert. Texte und Arbeiten herausgegeben durch die Erzabtei Beuron. Abteilung I, Beiheft I. Beiträge zur Ergründung des älteren lateinischen christlichen Schrifttums und Gottesdienstes 1. Beuron in Hohenzollern: Beuroner Kunstverlag.
  21. 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.
  22. Internal references
  23. Jonna Louis-Jensen and Tarrin Wills (eds) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Plácitusdrápa 55’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 216-17.
  24. George S. Tate 2007, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Líknarbraut’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 228-86.
  25. Not published: do not cite (Árni Gd 66IV)

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