Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bjarni gullbrárskáld Hallbjarnarson (BjHall)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Alison Finlay;

Kálfsflokkr (Kálffl) - 8

Skj info: Bjarni Hallbjarnarson gullbrárskáld, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 393-396, BI, 363-365).

Skj poems:

Bjarni gullbrárskáld Hallbjarnarson (BjHall) is mentioned only in the passages in the kings’ sagas in which stanzas from Kálfsflokkr, his sole surviving poem, are cited. He is generally identified, however, with the Icelander Bjarni Hallbjarnarson named in Þorgríms þáttr Hallasonar, which is preserved in Hulda-Hrokkinskinna (H-Hr; Fms 6, 32; ÍF 9, 298-303). He is there said to be the son of Hallbjǫrn skefill ‘Scraper’ of Laxárdalur in Skagafjörður, northern Iceland, and to have a brother called Þórðr, neither of whom is known elsewhere. The þáttr represents Bjarni, early in the reign of King Magnús Óláfsson (1035-47), presenting a poem to Kálfr Árnason, which includes praise of his deeds at the battle of Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030), and being killed immediately by Þorgrímr Hallason, a follower of King Óláfr; see further Biography of Kolgrímr litli ‘the Small’ (KolgrII), and Kolg ÓlII. This cannot be true according to the evidence of the stanzas printed below, however, since those representing Kálfr’s loss of the friendship of King Magnús and his campaigning in Orkney must have been composed as late as the mid 1040s. It seems most likely that the author of the þáttr knew of a poem by Bjarni in honour of Kálfr, but was not familiar with its content.

In the U redaction of Skáldatal ‘biarni gvllbraskalld’ is listed as a poet of Kálfr Árnason, and also included among the poets of Óláfr Tryggvason (r. c. 995-c. 1000), which must be a mistake: in the 761aˣ redaction this poet is simply named Bjarni skáld (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 269).

Bjarni’s nickname (recorded both with and without inflectional ‑(a)r-; see Lind 1920-1, 123) suggests that Bjarni was identified as the poet of someone, presumably a woman, nicknamed gullbrá ‘Gold-eyelash’. The same nickname gullbrá or gullbráskáld is also associated with the elusive Gizurr svarti (Gizsv; see his Biography in this volume).

my abbr.

Kálfsflokkr (‘Flokkr about Kálfr’) — BjHall KálfflI

Alison Finlay 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Bjarni gullbrárskáld Hallbjarnarson, Kálfsflokkr’ 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. 877.

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Skj: Bjarni Hallbjarnarson gullbrárskáld: Kalfsflokkr, o. 1050 (AI, 393-6, BI, 363-5)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, MGóð, Orkn, ÓH, ÓHHkr

SkP info: I, 877

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The eight stanzas presented below as KálfsflokkrFlokkr about Kálfr’ (BjHall Kálffl) are consistently attributed in the mss to Bjarni gullbrárskáld Hallbjarnarson, and the evidence of content and prose contexts suggests that they belong to a single poem. Kálffl is unusual in eulogising a lesser figure than a king or jarl and, for a poem addressed directly to its subject, it covers an unusually long time span, from c. 1028 to c. 1044.

Kálfr Árnason was a powerful magnate, and, along with Finnr, Árni and Þorbergr, one of the renowned Árnasynir, the sons of the lendr maðr ‘landed man, district chieftain’ Árni Ármóðsson. He is referred to as Eggjar-Kálfr, having acquired by marriage estates at Egg (Egge, Trøndelag), and he had authority under Óláfr Haraldsson over Trøndelag. Prose sources for his career include Theodoricus (MHN 30, 35, 39), HN (MHN 45), Ágr (ÍF 29, 27, 29-30, 32), Fsk (ÍF 29, 195, 197-8, 200, 207-8, 212), Hkr (ÍF 27, 28, see indices) and Orkn (ÍF 34, 54-5, 63-71, 79). The brothers were among the last magnates to remain loyal to Óláfr when other chieftains were switching allegiance to King Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great), and Kálfr fought for Óláfr at Bókn (Bokn) in 1027 or 1028 (sts 1-2). Kálfr’s three brothers accompanied Óláfr into exile in Russia, while Kálfr himself, perhaps motivated by Óláfr’s killing of his two stepsons and foster-sons as well as by self-interest, offered allegiance first to Knútr’s ally in Norway, Hákon jarl Eiríksson, and then to Knútr in England (st. 3), where he was apparently promised power in Norway in exchange for his opposition to Óláfr (st. 4). On the death of Hákon jarl at sea (c. 1029), Kálfr led the opposition to Óláfr which culminated in the battle of Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030, st. 5), facing an army including four of his own brothers (according to Hkr, ÍF 27, 377). Subsequently, disenchanted with his Danish overlords, Kálfr made peace with his brothers and went to Russia with Einarr þambarskelfir in spring 1034 to offer the throne of Norway to Óláfr’s illegitimate son Magnús (st. 6), whose foster-father he became. Memories of his role at Stiklastaðir, however, soon made this position untenable (st. 7) and he fled to Scotland, where he remained until some years after the death of Magnús in 1047. He fought at the battle of Rauðabjǫrg (Roberry) between the rival jarls of Orkney, Þorfinnr and Rǫgnvaldr (st. 8). Ostensibly reconciled with King Haraldr harðráði ‘Hard-rule’ Sigurðarson through the intercession of his brother Finnr, Kálfr died soon after (probably c. 1050-1) on a raid in Fjón (Fyn), manoeuvred by Haraldr into fighting against impossible odds (ÍF 28, 133). His brother Finnr was so enraged that he left Norway and took service with King Sveinn in Denmark (ÍF 28, 134-5).

The title Kálfsflokkr is mentioned in Hkr (ÍF 28, 25), in the introduction to st. 7, and ÓH attributes sts 1 and 6 to Bjarni’s kvæði ‘poem’ about Kálfr Árnason. All eight stanzas are found in mss of ÓH, and all but one in Hkr (these sources jointly designated ÓH-Hkr below), with the eighth, concerning Kálfr’s dealings with the jarls of Orkney, in Orkn. Five also appear in Fsk, in whole or in part, in a somewhat dismembered state: st. 1/1-4 and st. 2/3-6 form a stanza, and similarly st. 3/5-8 and st. 4/5-8, and st. 6/5-8 and 1-4, in that order. There is no metrical or logical criterion for deciding between the ordering of Fsk and that of ÓH-Hkr, since the two traditions are generally considered independent, but the latter has been preferred here since it accommodates elements (such as st. 1/5-8, st. 2/1-2, 7-8) that Fsk omits; and also because of significant corruption in Fsk’s version of st. 1/2. Bjarne Fidjestøl (1982, 56-8) notes that this uncertainty in the ordering of stanzas, and in particular the fact that ll. 3-6 of st. 2 are preserved as a helmingr – only possible where the syntactic structure of the stanza is particularly loose – is a clear example of oral variation, which would perhaps not be surprising in the unusual case of a poem honouring a lesser figure than a king or other ruler. The fact that Óláfr Haraldsson is referred to as bróðir Haralds ‘brother of Haraldr’ (st. 3/4) and his son Magnús as bróðurson Haralds ‘son of Haraldr’s brother’ (st. 7/4) suggests a time of composition during the reign of Haraldr harðráði (1046-66) and before Kálfr’s death c. 1050-1.

Since the whole of the extant Kálffl is preserved in ÓH and Hkr, Holm2, the leading ms. of the A class of ÓH mss, has been selected here as the main ms. This is preferred over , the leading Hkr ms., since has some damage affecting readings of the first two stanzas, and Holm2 occasionally has better readings, e.g. in st. 7. Other mss of ÓH used here are 61, Bb and Tóm (containing all stanzas), plus J2ˣ, 321ˣ, Bæb, 73aˣ, 68, Holm4, 75c, 325V, 325VII, Flat and 325XI 2 b (containing various subsets of stanzas). The Hkr mss used are (sts 1-7) and 39, F, J2ˣ and E (sts 6-7). The Fsk mss FskAˣ and 301ˣ are used (sts 1-4 and 6, some incomplete), and the Orkn mss 702ˣ and Flat (st. 8, which occurs twice in Flat).

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