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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Arn Magndr 4II/4 — gellir ‘the howler’

Flýði fylkir reiði
framr þjóðkonungs ramma;
stǫkk fyr auðvin okkrum
armsvells hati gellir.
Létat Nóregs njóta
nýtr þengill gram lengi;
hann rak Svein af sínum
sókndjarfr fǫðurarfi.

Framr fylkir flýði ramma reiði þjóðkonungs; hati armsvells, gellir, stǫkk fyr auðvin okkrum. Nýtr þengill létat gram njóta Nóregs lengi; sókndjarfr rak hann Svein af fǫðurarfi sínum.

The outstanding leader [Sveinn Álfífuson] fled the mighty fury of the nation’s king [Magnús]; the hater of arm-ice [SILVER > GENEROUS MAN], the howler, bolted from our treasure-friend [GENEROUS RULER = Magnús]. The worthy prince did not let the lord enjoy Norway for long; daring in attack, he drove Sveinn from his father’s legacy.


[4] gellir: hersir Flat


[4] gellir ‘howler’: This is a rare and problematic word. (a) One would expect from the verbs gella and gjalla the meaning ‘screecher, howler’ for the agent noun gellir, and this indeed fits the recorded usage. It is a derogatory nickname and, in the þulur, a heiti for ‘ox’ and ‘sword’ (Þul Øxna 3/5III, Þul Sverða 1/5III). In ModIcel. gellir is an appellative meaning ‘noisy, loud-voiced man’ (hávaðamaður; so Sigfús Blöndal 1920-4). Such a word could well suggest the empty bragging of a coward, and hence be an appropriate term for Sveinn, the enemy of the hero. If this is the meaning of gellir here, it must stand in apposition to armsvells hati ‘the hater of arm-ice [SILVER > GENEROUS MAN]’. (b) Gellir is also a proper name, and, as noted in his Biography above, Arnórr reputedly composed in memory of Gellir Þorkelsson. If gellir here were taken as an address to this or another Gellir, the dual poss. pron. in auðvin okkrum (l. 3), would be explained, especially since Gellir is said to have visited Magnús Óláfsson’s court and to have received lavish gifts from him (Laxdœla saga ch. 78, ÍF 5, 227-8). However, it would be curious if the encomiastic elegy for Magnús apostrophised another individual (especially in the light of þegi seimbrotar ‘let gold-breakers be silent’, st. 1). (c) Kock (NN §817) tentatively connects gellir with MHG gelle m. ‘contender, rival’ and emends ms. hate to gen. sg. hata so that armsvells hata gellir in l. 4 can be rendered ‘the rival of the hater of arm-ice [SILVER > GENEROUS MAN = Magnús > Sveinn]’. But on several counts this is unconvincing: (i) There is no evidence for ON gellir in this sense; (ii) MHG gelle is a weak noun, to which ON *gelli, not gellir, would be cognate (though Kock, in answer to this difficulty, cited ON doublets such as endi/endir and vísir/vísi); (iii) Gelle and its OHG counterpart are rare in German; (iv) the interpretation requires the slight emendation of ms. ‘hate’ to hata.



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