Icelandic: Fjölmóður – ævidrápa Jóns lærða Guðmundssonar

Discussion in 'Nordic Languages' started by RedwoodGrove, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. RedwoodGrove

    RedwoodGrove Senior Member

    English, USA

    This is from the Author's Note in "Blackout", the English translation of Ragnar Jonasson's mystery book, "Myrknætti". Could someone provide a translation, please? I'm fairly certain that "lærða" means "the learned" as that is part of his soubriquet. I suspect that "Fjölmóður" may mean something like "multi-minded" or I would hope "multifaceted intellect". Somewhere on the web I saw it translated as "many moods" but this seems unlikely, or perhaps too literal. About "ævidrápa" I have no idea. It didn't seem to come up in Google translate, etc.

    Any help would be appreciated!
  2. Segorian Senior Member

    Icelandic & Swedish
    Fjölmóður is the title of an autobiographical poem in nearly 400 stanzas by Jón Gudmundsson ‘the learned’. Drápa means a (usually quite long) poem in praise of the life and character of an eminent person, and thus ævidrápa (“life poem”) is a biographical poem.

    While it is possible to interpret the title along the lines that you suggest, fjölmóður (or fjölmóði) is actually the name of a bird, the Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima), now usually called sendlingur and going by several other names. In the poem, Jón mentions that he uses an image of this bird on his seal to reflect the fact that both enjoy little respect and that there are parallels between his own character and that traditionally assigned to the bird.
  3. RedwoodGrove

    RedwoodGrove Senior Member

    English, USA
    Thank you for that excellent clarification, Segorian. It would have been impossible to come up with the "Purple Sandpiper" gloss with only a dictionary. Where I had seen the other interpretation was in a doctoral thesis (or full length book), which I located again, by Simon Halink at the University of Groningen. She translates Fjölmóður as "Man of Many Moods", which makes me wonder if there is some kind of double meaning going on.

    So without wanting to complicate matters, let me put it this way: Does the word Fjölmóður have a meaning on its own, or is it merely suggestive? Presumably fjöl does mean many (like German viel) but what might the rest of the word mean? I couldn't find much in the dictionaries besides "mother" and "anger". You mention Fjölmóði versus Fjölmóður - are those different noun endings?

    Also, is the name of the bird a chance/whimsical name or does it refer to something specific? What would be those characteristics traditionally assigned to the bird?

    Thanks for any direction you can provide. I'm helping a friend out with this and while I know a little German and Dutch, that knowledge hardly extends to Icelandic.
  4. Segorian Senior Member

    Icelandic & Swedish
    To take the grammar first, you guessed correctly that -i and -ur are different noun endings (masculine ones). You are also correct that fjöl- corresponds to German viel (as well as to Greek polys). I write fjöl- because the word is only used as a prefix (very frequently in poetry, as it happens), never as an independent adjective.

    It has been suggested that the name of the bird is a reference to the wailing sound of its call, in which case the intended meaning is perhaps ‘the one that sounds very moody’. Jón the learned himself describes the bird as variously sad (on the low tide, when the ocean gives the impression of disappearing) and happy (on the high tide, when the water returns); this seems to support the ‘of many moods’ interpretation. It is quite probable that this meaning, or something similar, is what Jón intended.

    Otherwise, fjölmóður only exists as a proper name. Fleet horses have been called Fjölmóður, possibly in reference to the way in which the bird runs around in the sand. Fjölmóður also occurs as a man’s name in ancient tales. In other words and names, the meaning of the element -móður varies. In proper names, such as Hermóður and Þormóður, it can reasonably be taken to have the meaning ‘of a heroic disposition’ (Hermóður was one of the sons of Odin, and Þormóður is someone with the character of Thor). In the adjective þolinmóður, ‘patient’, is simply refers to a person’s disposition as specified by the prefix.

    Jón lists the following characteristics as shared by the bird and himself: enjoying little respect; harmless; pensive; apprehensive.
  5. RedwoodGrove

    RedwoodGrove Senior Member

    English, USA
    Thank you very much for providing such a detailed answer. It's an interesting analysis and the name brings to mind the sandpipers I used to see in Southern California in the marshlands that have all but disappeared. Although, googling "sandpiper California" just now, I discover that the bird I have always thought was a sandpiper is in fact a marbled godwit, another bird with a long, slender beak. However, given the amount of commercial muck for hotels etc. that I had to wade through to get to the actual bird, I suppose you could say that we Americans pay homage to the sandpiper in our own special way, and in ways that Jon could never have imagined. In any case, it is a bird that has a certain presence in people's minds.

    About "-móður" and the question of "mood" it did strike me that the usage might be related to the Old English word that was the origin of the modern word. As I recall from taking Anglo-Saxon many years ago, Caedmon uses something similar in his Hymn (modgeþanc), which I have seen translated as "mind-plans" or simply "purpose". Possibly both the AS and Icelandic are cognates of Dutch/German, moed/Mut. Given that courage is a kind of state of mind it's not an unlikely connection, nor would be the German Gemutlichkeit, a different kind of mood.

    My friend is trying to understand the 8 lines of poetry quoted at the beginning of the Jonasson book, both the English translation and the original. I'll work up another thread question if I may test your patience further.

    Thanks again.
  6. Segorian Senior Member

    Icelandic & Swedish
    You are welcome. As for the name sandpiper, I believe it is legitimate to use that for any bird in this family. Interestingly, at least one sandpiper has English and Icelandic names that are almost identical, namely the sanderling, in Icelandic sanderla. The name may derive from Old English sand-yrþling (with a different spelling -yrðling; this is an earlier form of the modern word earthling), meaning ‘one who digs in the sand’. In Modern Icelandic, this would be sandyrðlingur (if the word existed). In many other Germanic languages, the sanderling is referred to as “sand runner”.

    And yes, Old and Middle English mod, English mood, Old Norse/Old Icelandic móðr, Icelandic móður, German Mut, etc. all have the same origin. There appears to be an underlying idea of ‘having a mind to [(do) something]’, which then translates into different interrelated meanings, including ‘mind’, ‘state of mind’, ‘courage’, ‘anger’, ‘fighting spirit’, ‘mood’, and ‘character/disposition’.

    I have now discovered that the different meanings listed above, and others, are described very well in the University of Michigan’s Middle English Dictionary, see here.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2017

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