Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anonymous Poems (Anon)

I. 4. Poem about Óláfr Tryggvason (Ól) - 7

not in Skj

2.1: Poem about Óláfr Tryggvason — Anon ÓlI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Poem about Óláfr Tryggvason’ 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. 1061.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7 

Skj: [Anonyme digte og vers XIV]: A. 9. Af et digt om Olaf Tryggvason (AII, 462-3, BII, 494-5)

SkP info: I, 1061

notes: written in the margin of 69v 71r 72r (?)

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Seven dróttkvætt stanzas (Anon Ól) in praise of King Óláfr Tryggvason are written in the bottom margin of three folios of ÓT in AM 61 fol (61): sts 1-2 on fol. 69v, sts 3-4 on fol. 71r, and sts 5-7 on fol. 72r. The stanzas, now badly damaged, are in the same hand as the main text (‘Hand A’) of the ms. This part of 61 is usually dated to 1350-75 (AM 61 1982, 28; ONP Registre 433) and the frequent occurrence of late word-forms in the stanzas indicates they are also fourteenth-century (see Notes to sts 1/1, 4/2, 6/6, 6/7, 7/2; cf. AM 61 1982, 25). Ólafur Halldórsson (AM 61 1982, 25) couples this circumstance with the lack of copying errors in the stanzas and suggests that the Hand A scribe could have been their author. Ólafur’s hypothesis is more persuasive than Guðbrandur Vigfússon’s guess (CPB I, xlix-xlx) that they are by Einarr Gilsson. No medieval source names either author or poem, and Finnur Jónsson, their only other editor, refrains from speculation (1884-91, 114-26). The wording of the stanzas is often very close to that of ÓT, suggesting direct influence. The relative chronology implies the influence ran from ÓT’s prose to the stanzas. Finnur Jónsson (1884-91, 124-5) suggested the opposite, but the problems with this are pointed out in AM 61 1982, 24.

The poem recounts Óláfr’s activities in the service of the Christian faith, beginning with sword-juggling (st. 1), an íþrótt ‘special skill, accomplishment’ which he has already put to good use in converting Eindriði ilbreiðr (ÓT 1958-2000, I, 227-8; cf. Holtsmark 1972; Beck 1994b, 16-18), and proceeding to his teaching of the faith and crushing of heathens (st. 2). The rest of the poem (sts 3-7) is occupied by the following narrative, which is recounted in some detail in ÓT (1958-2000, II, 231-6), more briefly in ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 267-70), and alluded to in HSt Rst 29-31. Óláfr’s ships are overnighting at anchor when the watchmen on shore notice the king coming down towards the ship from the land behind them. They are surprised, as they had not seen him disembark; moreover, he has left no footprints in the heavy dew and his shoes and the hem of his cloak are miraculously dry. Þorkell dyðrill (or dyrðill, see Note to st. 6/6), said to be the king’s uncle (Hkr, ÍF 26, 346; ÓT 1958-2000, III, 9), decides to lie in wait for him at the end of the gang-plank on the next night, but does not see him. Rather, Óláfr turns the tables on Þorkell, pushing him into the sea as a reward for his curiosity. Þorkell, at first annoyed that his expensive cloak has been ruined, is mollified when Óláfr first undoes the damage to his cloak by laying his hands on it, then invites him along on one of his trips ashore, where Þorkell witnesses the king at prayer being visited by angels.

The surviving stanzas of Anon Ól cover about half of this narrative. They begin by marvelling at the king’s ability to move about not only without leaving footprints, but also over the water, evidently by supernatural means (st. 3; see Note to [All]) – an obvious solution to the conundrum of how the king gets ashore without being noticed, but mentioned in no other source – and continue with the comedy of Þorkell’s foolish attempt to spy on Óláfr (st. 4), and his comeuppance (st. 5). Óláfr rescues Þorkell with the help of a rope (st. 6; see Note to [All]) and attends to his cloak (st. 7); the last three lines of st. 7 have been trimmed off the bottom of fol. 72r, but they probably described Óláfr’s miraculous refurbishment of this garment. The stanzas imbue these apparently trivial events with the hagiographic tone characteristic of the twelfth-century and later poetry (and prose) devoted to Óláfr, and emphasise the king’s saintly, even Christ-like, qualities.

The seven stanzas are thus associated with a prose narrative, but because they are preserved continuously rather than being embedded in the narrative, there are no Context entries in the editions of the individual stanzas below.

The stanzas are now very difficult to read and large parts of the first three are completely illegible. Finnur Jónsson presented what he could read in his Småstykker (1884-91, 114-26, with commentary) and again in Skj. Finnur’s editorial technique probably involved dampening the ms. with water to bring the letters out, with deleterious effects on their long-term legibility (AM 61 1982, 23). The stanzas are also printed in the discussion of the marginalia in Ólafur Halldórsson’s introduction to the facsimile edition of 61 (AM 61 1982, 22-5, with commentary) and again, with some minor alterations, in Ólafur’s edition of ÓT (1958-2000, III, xxxiii-xxxiv). Ólafur read the text using ultra-violet light and was able to see more, especially of st. 1, than Finnur prints in 1884-91 or Skj A. The present text is accordingly based on Ólafur’s text in ÓT 1958-2000, normalised to a fourteenth-century standard. Ólafur places the letters he is unsure of inside square brackets, and these are indicated here by italics in the Text. Note that ms. forms are only listed in the Readings in cases where an emendation has been made or where the form is otherwise noteworthy (e.g. because the ms. has an ambiguous abbreviated form), not routinely wherever the italics in the Text indicate uncertainty. Stanzas 5-7 are also found in Árni Magnússon’s poetry miscellany 761bˣ, and a slip in Árni’s hand inserted into 61 contains ll. 1-2 of sts 3 and 4. Árni thought the stanzas belonged to HSt Rst (761bˣ, 151r), which he knew only from the citations in ÓT (AM 61 1982, 24), but the complete text of Rst in Bb rules this out. The 761bˣ texts have been consulted for this edition since they were copied from 61 when it was more legible.

The ordering of the stanzas in 61 does not present problems, but the poem’s structure is uncertain. It could perhaps be argued that the first two stanzas belong to a different poem, as their subject matter differs from that of the self-contained sequence in sts 3-7 (nor are they written on an adjacent leaf) but their common metre, dedicatee, tone and scribe/author render this suggestion implausible. As already noted, the last three lines of st. 7 were permanently lost when the leaf was trimmed, but, even allowing for this truncation, st. 7 is an unconvincing candidate for the concluding stanza of a long poem; nor is it an obvious place in the narrative to stop. We must therefore assume the entire poem was never in 61. If we agree with Ólafur Halldórsson that the Hand A scribe was also the poem’s author, the reason for this may be simply that the poem is unfinished.

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