Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anonymous Poems (Anon)

I. 3. Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar (Óldr) - 28

not in Skj

2.1: Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar (‘Drápa about Óláfr Tryggvason’) — Anon ÓldrI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Brepols, Turnhout, p. 1031.

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Skj: [Anonyme digte og vers XII]: [1]. Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar, ‘er Halfredr orti vandræda skalld’, et digt fra det 12. årh. (AI, 573-8, BI, 567-74)

SkP info: I, 1031

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Twenty-eight stanzas comprising a poem (or poems, see below) in praise of Óláfr Tryggvason (Anon Óldr) are, unusually for encomiastic poetry, written out continuously without intervening prose. They are transmitted only in Bergsbók (Bb, c. 1400-1425), forming the second in a collection of Olavian and Christian poems, written by various hands between the Bb texts of ÓT and ÓH. Óldr is not mentioned elsewhere. The rubric in Bb (fol. 112v), Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar er Hallfreðr orti vandræðaskáldÓláfs drápa Tryggvasonar, which Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld (“Troublesome-poet”) composed’ (fol. 112v, normalised), would imply composition in or soon after 1000 AD. However, the poem’s similarity to Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli (ESk GeislVII, c. 1153) and its striking parallels with another skaldic life of Óláfr Tryggvason, Hallar-Steinn’s Rekstefja (HSt Rst), indicate it was composed no earlier than the twelfth century, and stylistic features such as appeals for God’s help in composing poetry (st. 1) and modesty topoi (sts 2, 27; see Lie 1952, 178-88) would support this view. Placing the poem more exactly between this date and c. 1400-1425, the terminus ante quem provided by Bb, is extremely difficult. The lack of metrically-guaranteed traces of the sound changes which took place in thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Icelandic could (with due caution) be taken as suggesting a date early in this range, and several scholars have in fact dated the poem to the twelfth century (see LH II, 109; de Vries 1964-7, II, 46; Kuhn 1983, 316-17). Common features shared by Óldr, Geisl and Rst cannot be used for dating, as influence could have flowed in either direction, and the old linguistic forms which occur in a couple of places (see e.g. Notes to sts 9/8, 12/8) are almost certainly deliberate archaisms (de Vries 1964-7, II, 45 n. 85; see LH II, 109, for a contrary view). Points in favour of a later date of composition include the violation of normal skaldic word order by the delayed placing of the finite verb, rare before the thirteenth century (sts 9/4 tœði, 10/7 hvarf, 13/3 bauð, 14/3 braut, 19/2 hrauzk, 22/8 gerðisk); and a few metrical and lexical features whose only parallels are found in thirteenth-century and later poetry (see Notes to sts 8/5, 11/5-8, 13/2, 18/5, 20/2). In addition there are several awkward kennings (see e.g. Notes to sts 2/2, 14/2, 4, 18/5, 6, 23/5-8, 27/4, 28/5) and metrical irregularities (see e.g. Notes to sts 11/7, 23/1-4, 27/5) which might indicate a late skald who lacked complete mastery of the medium, though the fact that the poem is only preserved in Bb, whose skaldic texts are generally poorly transcribed, may also be a factor here. Due to the equivocal nature of the evidence for dating supplied by the poem, no strong position will be taken here, and in normalising the text a rather conservative orthography appropriate to c. 1200 has been adopted.

The author of Óldr is unknown. De Vries’s attempt (1964-7, II, 46) to identify its time and place of composition as the circle of Bishop Klœngr Þorsteinsson in late twelfth-century Skálaholt lacks strong supporting evidence. Lines addressing a ‘síra Guttormr’ appear immediately after the last stanza of the poem(s) in Bb, but the phrasing Guð fyrirláti mér að eg klóraði svá illa og rangt og svá síra Guttormr ‘May God, and also síra Guttormr, forgive me for scribbling so badly and with so many errors’ (Bb fol. 113rb, normalised) suggests this Guttormr is probably the scribe’s supervisor rather than the poem’s author (Stefán Karlsson 1967b, 82). Nor, given its late date, is it likely that Óldr is the work of one of the otherwise unknown skalds whom tradition associates with Óláfr Tryggvason: Bjarni, mentioned in HSt Rst 34/8 and Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261 and n.), or Sóti, referred to in the DG 4-7 redaction of ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 370, 372-3 and n.) as having composed about Óláfr.

The first part of Óldr describes Óláfr’s youthful viking exploits, missionary activities in Scandinavia, and virtuous Christian rule. After a lacuna of uncertain length (see below), the text resumes in a description of the battle of Svǫlðr (c. 1000), and concludes with two stanzas of metapoetic comment and a prayer for Óláfr’s soul. While mythological kennings and syntactic complexity are exploited in the traditional manner, the poem is a retrospective narrative in which the skald speaks as a representative of the community of Scandinavian Christians (eigum þat launa ‘we have to repay that’, st. 14/1, 4). The contemporary flavour of Hallfreðr’s erfidrápa (Hfr ErfÓl) is completely absent.

There is a lacuna in the ms. between st. 16 and st. 17 (which is defective). It is not clear whether one or two leaves are lacking (ÓH 1941, II, 1006-7), though the most recent study suggests only one is missing (ÓT 1958-2000, III, clxiv-clxv). The poem’s original form is thus uncertain. If one leaf is missing, the poem would have been about 68 stanzas long; if two, about 108 stanzas, longer than any extant skaldic poem. It has also been suggested that sts 1-16 and 17-28 might belong to two different poems (ÓH 1941, II, 1007; ÓT 1958-2000, III, clxv), each of which could have been only about 34 stanzas long, about the same length as Rst. The usual definition of a drápa is that it is a poem drepit stefjum ‘supplied with refrains’, so if Bb’s description of Óldr as a drápa is correct, the entire stefjabálkr ‘refrain section’ is missing, since none of the surviving stanzas seems to be a stef. The section before the stefjabálkr therefore comprises at least 16 stanzas, twice as many as in Rst, making the idea that the entire poem was twice as long as Rst less implausible.

Subject-matter for this greatly expanded stefjabálkr could have been provided by the sorts of stories recounted in ÓTOdd chs 36-64 (ÍF 25, 265-9) about Óláfr’s marvellous feats of strength and dexterity, and the signs of his blessedness, several of which feature in Rst (sts 25-30), as well as the lead-up to the battle of Svǫlðr, which is well under way when the poem resumes part-way through st. 17. While the general style of sts 1-16 and 17-28 is similar (the opening and closing stanzas in particular have many words in common) and Óláfr is certainly the subject of both parts, we cannot be certain whether this indicates we are dealing with a single poem, or merely with the characteristic intertextuality and/or stylistic uniformity characteristic of twelfth-century poems on Óláfr. Some factors might favour the postulation of two poems. The close verbal parallels between Óldr and Rst are confined to the part of Óldr before the lacuna (see Notes to Óldr 2/6, 8, 3/2, 5/8, 6/4, 6, 11/1, 2, 3, 5-8 and 12/2, and de Vries 1964-7, II, 45 n. 83); the clause arrangement of sts 17-28 is somewhat simpler than that of sts 1-16, and inverted kennings, frequent in sts 1-16, become rare. The stylistic liberty of aðalhending in odd lines is also much commoner before the lacuna than after (see sts 3/1, 3/3, 6/5, 7/1, 11/7, 13/3, 14/7, 20/3 and (by emendation) 24/3). Lacuna aside, the Bb text was from the beginning a poor one: word-division errors are extremely frequent, orthography (e.g. the representation of geminate consonants) is erratic, and st. 27 at least (probably also st. 26) is garbled beyond repair.

Since the poem is preserved as a continuum rather than being embedded in a prose narrative, there are no ‘Context’ sections below. For the same reason the stanzas have not previously been edited within editions of the kings’ sagas, but chiefly in Skj, Skald and in editions by Munch and Unger (1847) and Gullberg (1875).

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