Grotesque Advice in Seventeenth-Century Iceland

The Mysterious Origins of Grobbians rímur

  • Philip Lavender


Grobianus et Grobiana was an influential sixteenth-century German work by Friedrich Dedekind which presented advice on how to behave badly, supposedly as an inverse way of encouraging people to behave well. This article looks at an Icelandic work from the seventeenth century, Grobbians rímur, which drew on the figure of Grobianus and his wife Grobiana (who becomes Gribba in the Icelandic text) but is no mere translation. Grobbians rímur is little studied and has a complex transmission history, with several authors contributing additional fitts over a period of many decades. The focus here is the earliest four fitts (what I call the “core Grobbians rímur”), usually attributed to a single author, either Jón Magnússon í Laufási or Guðmundur Erlendsson. Through a consideration of the three extant seventeenth-century manuscripts, two early versions come to light, one consisting of only three fitts as well as another consisting of the more familiar four fitts. A hypothesis is developed that these two versions could be the result of two authors working together and expanding on each other’s compositions, thus both Jón Magnússon and Guðmundur Erlendsson could equally be considered the authors. Other poems by these poets suggest that they responded to each other’s works. Thus arguments are presented that the three-fitt version is most likely the earlier form of the poem, probably composed principally by Jón Magnússon, while the four-fitt version came after and Guðmundur Erlendsson was probably involved in its composition. This study will hopefully pave the way for future research which will consider the literary and cultural value of this intriguing work.