Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to Gamlkan Has 11VII

[1-4]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) construes this helmingr as follows: Gatk optsinnis vinna ókynni á mik þar, es vissak annan vigrar veðr-Þrótt, dróttinn ljóss, and translates ofte gjorde jeg mig skyldig i unoder, hvor jeg vidste, at andre mænd gjorde det, lysets herre ‘I was often guilty of bad habits where I knew that other men were doing it, lord of light’. Kock (NN §2110) objects to Finnur’s interpretation as ‘modern’, substituting his own prose arrangement: Gatk optsinnis vinna þar ókynni, er ek vissa annan víga ljóss veðr-Þrótt á mik, dróttinn which Black (1971, 167) paraphrases ‘I have often behaved ignobly when I knew that another man was treating me in that manner, Lord’. Whether consciously or not, this largely accords with Sveinbjörn Egilsson’s understanding in 444ˣ, which reads: Ek gat optsinnis vinna ókynnin, þar er ek vissa annan Þrótt á mik, dróttinn ljóss veðrvegar ‘I have often behaved badly when I knew another man (lit. Þrótt = Óðinn) to be doing so towards me, Lord of the bright weather-way [SKY/HEAVEN > = God]’. This interpretation (and the emendation to vegar in l. 3) is adopted by Kempff (1867, 28). In the context of Gamli’s confession of former sins, Kock’s suggestion that Gamli is confessing to behaving badly seems more plausible than Finnur’s, in which he tries to shift the blame for his misdeeds. As Jón Helgason (1935-6, 195) explains, there are some difficulties with Kock’s interpretation. The main problem is that the construction vinna á e-n is otherwise unattested: Fritzner: vinna gives examples of the phrase only with dat. or gen. objects. Furthermore, as Jón says, it is difficult to justify the separation of the acc. annan in l. 1 from the immediately adjacent verb geta. Jón’s suggestion, which is adopted by Black (1971, 166) and here, depends on the assumption that the phrasal verb vita á sik ‘to know oneself, to be guilty of’ with objects meaning ‘fault’, ‘blame’ or, as here, ‘sin’ existed in C12th usage. This use is common in MIcel, and Fritzner: vita has several examples of the similar phrase at vita e-t eptir e-m with this meaning in medieval religious prose, though Fritzner lists no examples of vita in conjunction with either á or sik. Even so, Jón’s interpretation makes for a much simpler and smoother prose arrangement than does either Kock’s or Finnur’s, and fits better with the tone of both the second helmingr and Gamli’s self-accusatory confession in sts 7-16.


  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. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. Black, Elizabeth L. 1971. ‘Harmsól: an edition’. B. Litt. thesis. University of Oxford.
  5. 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.
  6. Jón Helgason. 1935-6. ‘Til skjaldedigtningen’. APS 10, 250-64.
  7. Kempff, Hjalmar, ed. 1867. Kaniken Gamles ‘Harmsól’ (Sol i Sorgen): isländskt andligt qväde från medeltiden med öfversättning och förklaringar. Uppsala: Edquist & Berglund.


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