Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon Líkn 31VII

George S. Tate (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Líknarbraut 31’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 261-2.

Anonymous PoemsLíknarbraut

Heill ver kross, er kallaz,
Krists mark, himins vistar
lýðs af læknis dauða
lykill mannkyni syknu;
örr því at upp lauk* harri
élskríns fyr þik sínum,
áðr þá er læst var lýðum,
lífs höll vinum öllum.

Heill ver kross, {Krists mark}, er kallaz lykill himins vistar mannkyni syknu af dauða {lýðs læknis}; því at {örr harri {élskríns}} lauk* upp fyr þik {lífs höll} öllum sínum vinum þá er áðr var læst lýðum.

Hail Cross, {Christ’s sign} [CROSS], which is called the key of heaven’s dwelling for mankind, acquitted through the death {of mankind’s healer} [= Christ]; for {the generous lord {of the storm-shrine}} [HEAVEN > = God (= Christ)] opened by means of you {life’s hall} [SKY/HEAVEN] for all his friends, which was earlier locked to men.

Mss: B(11v), 399a-bˣ

Readings: [5] upp lauk*: ‘[...]pp laukt’ B, upplaukt 399a‑bˣ    [7] er: so 399a‑bˣ, ‘e[...]’ B;    var: so 399a‑bˣ, ‘[...]’ B

Editions: Skj AII, 156, Skj BII, 168, Skald II, 89; Sveinbjörn Egilsson 1844, 44-5, Rydberg 1907, 16, 51, Kock and Meissner 1931, I, 91, Tate 1974, 76.

Notes: [All]: This st. is the first in a catalogue (sts 31-7) devoted to figures of the Cross: as key, blossom, ship, ladder, bridge, scales and altar. Several of these figures, with attendant details, appear in Pange lingua and Vexilla regis, the famous Cross hymns of Venantius Fortunatus (C6th) used in Good Friday liturgy as well as in feasts of the Cross (Connelly 1957, 79). Almost all of them occur in the Lat. hymns collected by Dreves and Blume in AH, which range from mid C11th to early C13th, as well as in exegetical texts and iconography. (Such analogues are pointed out in the Notes to the individual sts.) The late medieval Gimsteinn (102-15) contains a similar catalogue of figurur (102/1): ladder, road, altar, Noah’s ark, ointment, key, rod of Aaron, David’s staff (ÍM I.2, 327-30). — [1] heill ver kross ‘hail, Cross’: A characteristic beginning of hymns on the Cross: e.g. Salve crux sancta ‘Hail, holy Cross’ (Mone 1853-5, I, 111; cf. 103, 109), Salve crux, arbor / vitae praeclara ‘Hail, Cross, celebrated tree of life’ (AH 54, 192; cf. 194); cf. the late medieval Krossþulur 2/1 Heill serttu krucius | kross enn helge ‘Hail, excruciating holy Cross’ (ÍM I.2, 240). — [2] Krists mark ‘Christ’s sign [CROSS]’: Cf. Geisl 34/7 Mark stendr Krists í kirkju ‘the sign of Christ stands in the church’. Meissner, 432 lists Krists mark among Cross-kennings; on the term ‘sign’ for the Cross, see Reijners 1965, 118-23, 160-87 (cf. krossmark ‘cross-sign’ 13/6 and fríðarmerki ‘peace-sign’ 32/2). — [3] af dauða lýðs læknis ‘from the death of mankind’s [lit. people’s] healer [= Christ]’: The letter form of <a> in af is unusual, like an alpha; Rydberg 1907, 16 reads of but emends to af (51). Christ is also called læknir ‘healer, physician’ in Geisl 57/8 and Mdr 14/1. This common appellation is based upon Christ’s reference to himself as medicus ‘physician’ in Matt. IX.12 (Mark II.17, Luke V.31). For liturgical occurrences see Manz 1941, 292, no. 588-91 (medicus bonus, m. caelistis, m. salutaris, m. verus); Augustine’s use of the metaphor is discussed by Arbesmann 1954, 1-28. It is, of course, a sacred paradox that the physician heals by means of his own death. (On the Cross as healer, see Note to 40/1.) — [4] lykill ‘key’: Only occurrence in skaldic poetry. The Cross as key is a fairly common image, based primarily upon the ‘key of David’ in Isa. XXII.22 and Rev. III.7. See, e.g., Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos XLV (Augustinus Hipponensis, col. 514) crux Domini nostri clavis fuit, qua clausa aperirentur ‘the Cross of our Lord was a key by which closed things were opened’ and Bonaventure ipsa crux ... comparatur et assimilitatur in Sacra Scriptura clavi domus David ‘the Cross itself is compared and in holy scripture likened to the key of the house of David’ (Bonaventure 1882-1902, IX, 222). The image is also found in Cross hymns, often, as here, with specific reference to opening heaven: e.g. Ave, clavis reserans / Portas paradisi / Adam quas exasperans / Clausit ‘Hail, key, unlocking the gates of Paradise, which Adam, making them harsh, closed’ (AH 38, 88, cf. 128; 40, 33; 8, 30); see also Gimsteinn 111/1 Hægur lykill himna ʀikis ‘convenient key of heaven’ (ÍM I.2, 329). — [5] lauk upp ‘opened’: All eds emend from ms. ‘laukt’, which the scribe apparently understood to refer to kross ‘Cross’ (l. 1), perhaps construing harri ‘lord’ (l. 5) as vocative, hence 2nd pers. But the subject of the verb has to be harri, with þik ‘you’ (l. 6) referring to the Cross. Restoration of <u> based upon 399a-bˣ. — [7] élskríns ‘of the storm-shrine [HEAVEN]’: Cf. veðrskrín ‘storm-shrine’ 8/6. The proper object of lauk upp ‘opened up’ (l. 5) is, of course, lífs höll ‘life’s hall [SKY/HEAVEN]’ (l. 8), but an associative transfer to the kenning’s base-word (skrín) may suggest that the Cross opens heaven just as a key opens a casket or shrine. — [8] er var læst ‘which was locked’: Restoration of <r> (er) and var based upon 399a-bˣ and trace of possible <v> in B. Cf. Gimsteinn 110/5-6 Lukuzt vpp dyr þær eʀ læstar voru | med lykli ‘The doors which were locked were opened with a key’ (ÍM I.2, 329).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. Meissner = Meissner, Rudolf. 1921. Die Kenningar der Skalden: Ein Beitrag zur skaldischen Poetik. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 1. Bonn and Leipzig: Schroeder. Rpt. 1984. Hildesheim etc.: Olms.
  4. 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.
  5. Arbesmann, R. 1954. ‘The Concept of “Christus medicus” in S. Augustine’. Traditio 10, 1-28.
  6. Bonaventure, S. 1882-1902. Opera omnia. 11 vols. Ad Claras Aquas (Quaracchi): Collegium S. Bonaventurae.
  7. Connelly, Joseph. 1957. Hymns of the Roman Liturgy. Westminster, Maryland: Newman.
  8. Rydberg, Hugo, ed. 1907. ‘Die geistlichen Drápur und Dróttkvættfragmente des Cod. AM 757 4to.’. Ph.D. thesis. University of Lund. Copenhagen: Møller.
  9. Tate, George S. 1974. ‘Líknarbraut: A Skaldic Drápa on the Cross’. Ph.D. thesis. Cornell University. DAI 35:6112A.
  10. ÍM = Jón Helgason, ed. 1936-8. Íslenzk miðaldarkvæði: Islandske digte fra senmiddelalderen. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  11. Kock, Ernst Albin and Rudolf Meissner, eds. 1931. Skaldisches Lesebuch. 2 vols. Rheinische Beiträge und Hülfsbücher zur germanischen Philologie und Volkskunde 17-18. Halle: Niemeyer.
  12. 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.
  13. Mone, Franz Joseph, ed. 1853-5. Hymni latini medii aevi. 3 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder.
  14. 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.
  15. Internal references
  16. Katrina Attwood (ed.) 2007, ‘Anonymous Poems, Máríudrápa 14’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 490.
  17. Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 34’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 34-5.
  18. Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 57’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 53-4.

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