Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson (Bjbp)

13th century; volume 1; ed. Jonna Louis-Jensen;

Jómsvíkingadrápa (Jóms) - 45

Skj info: Bjarni Kolbeinsson, Orknøsk biskop, d. 1222. (AII, 1-10, BII, 1-10).

Skj poems:

Bjarni Kolbeinsson (Bjbp) was born into a powerful family in the Orkney Islands, possibly c. 1150-60 (af Petersens, Jvs 1879, 122). His father was the Norwegian-Orcadian chieftain Kolbeinn hrúga ‘Heap’ and his mother was Herborg, a great-granddaughter of Páll jarl Þorfinnsson on the maternal side (see Ættaskrár [Genealogies] II in ÍF 35). Bjarni was also very well connected: he was a close friend of Haraldr jarl Maddaðarson (ÍF 35, 289), sent precious gifts to Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson in Iceland on three occasions (Guðrún P. Helgadóttir 1987, 2-3), and had connections with the Oddaverjar (see further Einar Ól. Sveinsson 1937, 17-18, 34-9).

Bjarni was Bishop of Orkney from 1188 (ÍF 35, 289) until his death on 15 September 1223. Among his achievements as bishop were the exhumation and canonisation of Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson (ÍF 35, 282; SkP II, 575) and the extension of St Magnús’s Cathedral in Kirkwall. Bjarni was also a diplomat and is known to have travelled to Norway for political reasons in 1194-5, 1208-9, 1210, 1218 and 1223 (see Bugge 1875, 244; Holtsmark 1937a, 2-3); he probably died in Norway (Jón Stefánsson 1907-8, 46).

Bjarni is introduced as Bjarni skáld ‘Poet’ in Orkn (ÍF 35, 193), but Jómsvíkingadrápa (Jóms) is the only literary work attributed to him in medieval sources. Suggestions that he compiled Orkn (Jón Stefánsson 1907-8) and the þulur in SnE (Bugge 1875) have not been generally accepted; see Introduction to Jóms below on the attribution of Anon Mhkv to Bjarni.

my abbr.

Jómsvíkingadrápa (‘Drápa about the Jómsvíkingar’) — Bjbp JómsI

Emily Lethbridge 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson, Jómsvíkingadrápa’ 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. 954.

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Skj: Bjarni Kolbeinsson: Jómsvíkingadrápa (AII, 1-10, BII, 1-10); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4

in texts: ÓT

SkP info: I, 954

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Forty-three complete stanzas and two helmingar (sts 44, 45) survive from JómsvíkingadrápaDrápa about the Jómsvíkingar’ (Bjbp Jóms). Composed some two centuries after the event it describes, the poem relates historical and legendary traditions about the famous sea-battle of Hjǫrungavágr (tentatively identified with Liavågen, Møre og Romsdal, Norway; Megaard 1999). This was fought c. 985 between a Wendish-Danish force under Búi digri ‘the Stout’ Vésetason and Vagn Ákason, leaders of the Jómsvíkingar, and a Norwegian force led by Hákon jarl Sigurðarson and his son Eiríkr. (On Jóm and the Jómsvíkingar, see Notes to sts 6/2, 17/4 below, and on the jarls and other skaldic poetry associated with the battle, see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume.) The poem names champions on both sides. In addition to Búi and Vagn, men named in the Jómsvíkingar force are Sigvaldi Strút-Haraldsson, Þorkell Strút-Haraldsson, Sigurðr kápa ‘Cloak’ Vésetason, Hávarðr hǫggvandi ‘Hewer’ and Áslákr hólmskalli ‘Island-Baldhead’. Those in the Norwegian force additional to Hákon and Eiríkr are Þorkell leira ‘Clay’, Ármóðr from Ǫnundarfjǫrðr, Vígfúss Víga-Glúmsson (Vígf) and Þorleifr skúma Þorkelsson (Þskúm). The poem comprises opening statements by the poet (sts 1-5); a section introducing the Jómsvíkingar and the Danes (sts 6-9); accounts of the vows made by them at a feast given by the Danish King Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson (sts 10-14); their voyage to Norway and landing there (sts 15-17); the main battle (sts 18-38), with its changing fortunes and developments, including Hákon’s sacrifice and the ensuing supernatural support of Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr (sts 30, 32); and the aftermath of the battle (sts 39-45).

The poem is named Jómsvíkingadrápa and attributed to the Orcadian bishop Bjarni Kolbeinsson in the prose of ÓT (1958-2000, I, 178 and later citations; cf. Jvs 1879, 71). Accordingly, 1223, the year of Bjarni’s death, is taken as the terminus ante quem for the composition of the poem. Some critics and editors have argued for a date in the latter decades of the twelfth century, before Bjarni became bishop in 1188 (af Petersens, Jvs 1879, 120; Megaard 2000a, 170-2), or c. 1200 (Holtsmark 1962, 606).

Jóms is preserved principally in R, the Codex Regius of SnE, where sts 1-40 are written out consecutively at the end of the ms., after the text of Háttatal (SnSt HtIII) and before the text of Málsháttakvæði (Anon MhkvIII; see Krömmelbein 1992, 123-5 for speculation on the inclusion of Jóms and MhkvIII in R). While the authorship, place, and date of composition of MhkvIII are uncertain, it may also have been composed in the Orkneys, and several scholars have attributed its composition to Bjarni Kolbeinsson (Möbius 1873, 20-1, 24; Bugge 1875, 239-40; Ólafur Halldórsson in Jvs 1969, 27 regards Bjarni’s authorship as possible). Certainly, there are some interesting points of correspondence between Jóms and MhkvIII (see Introduction to Anon MhkvIII) and also between Jóms and other poems thought to have been composed in the medieval Orcadian literary milieu (on which, see Jesch 2007). These include Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson’s lausavísur (Rv LvII) and Háttalykill (RvHbreiðm HlIII), Ormr Steinþórsson’s Poem about a Woman (Ormr WomanIII), Þorkell Gíslason’s Búadrápa (ÞGísl Búdr) and the anonymous Krákumál (Anon KrmVIII (Ragn)); see e.g. Poole (1982, 133-6).

Eighteen stanzas of Jóms are preserved in mss of ÓT, five of which (sts 41-5) are not found in R; see further below. All are embedded in the saga’s narrative of Hjǫrungavágr, as supplementary evidence for the presentation of events, and for rhetorical and aesthetic effect (see Heslop 2006a). Prose accounts of the battle of Hjǫrungavágr are also found in Jvs (of which five redactions exist), Fsk and Hkr, as well as Saxo Grammaticus (see summary in Megaard 2000a, 128-9). Megaard (ibid., 174) argues that Jóms derives material from a very early version of Jvs, perhaps from the 1180s, and that the Fsk and Hkr narratives are based on a version of the saga that is closely related to the version that lies behind Jóms.

The reconstruction of the poem as a whole is relatively unproblematic since the ordering of stanzas in R is logical and is replicated in ÓT for the stanzas found there. The main difficulty concerns the ordering of sts 2-5, since marginal notations in R, which are now difficult to see but were noted by af Petersens (Jvs 1879, 104 nn. 5, 10), suggest that the scribe (or someone else, at a later point in time) wished to indicate an alteration to the order of sts 2-5 as they were copied out initially. These extra-textual marks are a cross after st. 1 and a corresponding sign after the fourth and final stanza on 53r (st. 4 in this edition). Some previous editors (af Petersens in Jvs 1879; Finnur Jónsson in Skj B) accordingly moved this stanza up to second place, following the poet’s opening statements in st. 1, and shifted the intermediary stanzas (sts 2 and 3 in this edition) down so that they became sts 3 and 4 respectively. The present edition, however, retains the original order of sts 2-5 as copied out in R on the basis that (1) it is not clear when the scribal marks indicating the re-ordering of stanzas were added to the ms.; (2) the original R order of stanzas is logical; (3) given that the stanzas containing Odinic material (sts 1, 4 in this edition) are incomplete because of damage to the ms. (see below), it is difficult to theorise about the progression of ideas in the opening stanzas one way or the other.

While it seems that Jóms as preserved cumulatively in R and the ÓT mss is substantially complete, an uncertain number of stanzas is nevertheless missing from the end of the poem. Clearly, Jóms must have contained an additional two helmingar to complete sts 44 and 45. On the basis that the upphaf ‘beginning, opening sequence’ comprises fourteen stanzas (with the stef appearing for the first time in st. 15), the suggestion that at least four stanzas are missing from the concluding slœmr ‘cut, tailpiece, thin end’ has been made (see Jvs 1879, 128-9; CPB II, 302; LH II, 40; Holtsmark 1937a, 5; Holtsmark 1962, 606; Fidjestøl 1993e, 48).

The metre is munnvǫrp, lit. ‘mouth-throwings’, a form of dróttkvætt with simplified hendingar requirements. There are no hendingar in the odd lines and skothendingar rather than aðalhendingar in the even lines. The metre is employed throughout, albeit with some irregularities such as occurrences of skothendingar in a number of odd lines (in sts 1/1, 5/7, 8/1, 10/7, 14/5, 31/7, 37/5, 38/3, 44/1) and aðalhendingar in occasional odd lines (in sts 6/5, 22/3). Af Petersens (Jvs 1879, 129-30) notes that the alliteration in sts 1/3-4, 8/5-6, 13/5-6, and 14/5-6 (among other examples) is interesting on account of words beginning with hr-, hv- and hl- alliterating on h-. Initial h- in these positions (as well as in hn-, not represented in Jóms) is thought to have fallen away in the Orkney dialect by the twelfth century. Its presence in Jóms has thus led to the suggestion that there was a difference between the spoken language in the Orkneys and that used in traditional poetic composition at the time when Jóms was composed (see further M. Olsen 1932a, 151-3; Ólafur Halldórsson in Jvs 1969, 27; Megaard 2000a, 169-70; Ólafur adds the possibility that Jóms was composed by an Icelander). The poem is further characterised by irregularities relating to the number and weight of syllables, which could have arisen in transmission, or else might suggest that Bjarni’s adherence to dróttkvætt rules was flexible at times, whether deliberately or accidentally; see Notes to sts 4/2, 6/8, 9/6, 10/2, 11/7, 13/7, 20/8 and 33/6.

The structure of the poem is that of a standard drápa, with the central stefjabálkr ‘refrain section’ marked by repetition of the klofastef ‘split refrain’ in ll. 1, 4, 5 and 8 of sts 15, 19, 23, 27, 31 and 35. The inner pairs of lines (2-3 and 6-7) normally form syntactically independent statements, producing the dróttkvætt variant stælt ‘intercalated, inlaid’ (cf. SnSt Ht 12III and Context). The diction of the poem is generally unremarkable and its numerous heiti and kennings (often inverted) are mainly conventional. Stylistically, however, the poem subverts a number of conventions such as that of the poet’s initial call for a hearing (see Note to st. 1 [All]). Most striking of all is the way in which Bjarni weaves the theme of love into the battle narrative he presents, especially through the medium of his first-person experiences of unrequited love as communicated in sts 2 and 3, and in the stef lines. The contrast between the poet’s romantic failures and the successes of Vagn Ákason, who marries Ingibjǫrg Þorkelsdóttir at the end of the poem, produces an underlying humorous irony (see Noreen 1926, 259-60; Bandlien 2005, 120-2), while each of the stef stanzas offers a fresh variant on the contrast between the love theme and the bloody clash between the Jómsvíkingar and the Norwegian jarls, effecting what Finlay (1995, 119) describes as ‘baroque syntactical disruption’. On the possible influence of medieval French troubadour poetry on the motif of unrequited love for a high-born married woman, see Note to st. 15/4.

Jóms is an important and innovative poem in other respects. As Fidjestøl (1993e, 48) puts it, Jóms ‘probably marks a turning-point in the history of skaldic verse, as it is the first poem by a historically well-known poet, who chooses as his subject old lore, hence the skald’s own denomination sǫgukvæði, and treats it in a light-hearted, ironic manner’; see also Heslop (2006a, 384) on Bjarni’s break with traditions and Note to st. 5/8 on the term sǫgukvæði. It might be noted that ‘old lore’ seems to be the topic of another poem of Orcadian provenance, RvHbreiðm HlIII (see especially sts 1/5III, 2/3-5III). Whether or not Bjarni had poetic models such as HlIII to hand, his legacy – in words, as well as in the sandstone of Kirkwall Cathedral – and his place in the ranks of skaldic poets is a distinguished one.

In the present edition, R is used as the main ms. since it preserves the greater part (sts 1-40) of the extant poem. The ÓT mss 61, 54 and Bb contain sts 10-12, 17-18, 20, 26, 29, 30, 32-4, 38 and 41-5, and 53 has sts 18, 20, 26, 29, 32-4, 38 and 43; ms. 61 is the main ms. for sts 41-5. In ms. R, the vellum is very dark and/or badly damaged at the foot of fol. 53r and the head and foot of 53v and 54r, so that in sts 1-6, 19-24, 36, 37 and 39-40 certain words or phrases are difficult or impossible to make out, and in sts 4, 5, 23-4 and 40 whole lines are now illegible. However, Jón Erlendsson, the scribe of the seventeenth-century transcript AM 65 folˣ (65ˣ), and the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century editors Carl af Petersens in Jvs 1879 and Finnur Jónsson in Skj A were able to read more, and are largely in agreement with each other (though the 65ˣ text in general contains some eccentric secondary readings, as well as lacking sts 5, 6, 23 and 41-5). These texts have therefore been used to supply missing or illegible letters in this edition; such letters are italicised in the Text and Prose Order on a par with emendations. The practice of italicising extends to 65ˣ because its readings are, at times, difficult to make sense of and may involve an element of conjecture. Readings from the two diplomatic editions are cited in the Readings with the sigla RCP and RFJ respectively, and they are included in the formula ‘so all others’ as appropriate. Where af Petersens and Finnur Jónsson express doubt about readings either in their text or notes, this is indicated in the Readings, as throughout SkP, by placing the doubtful letters in parentheses, followed by a query.

The Context sections for sts 10-12, 17-18, 20, 26, 29, 30, 32-4, 38 and 41-5 below summarise the accompanying prose of ÓT. Because sts 1-9, 13-16, 19, 21-5, 27, 28, 31, 35-7, 39 and 40 are preserved only within the continuous text in R, there is no Context for those. The editor would like to acknowledge and thank Diana Whaley for her guidance and contributions to the Notes in this edition.

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