Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Eyvindr skáldaspillir Finnsson (Eyv)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Russell Poole;

1. Hákonarmál (Hák) - 21

Skj info: Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir, Norsk skjald, 10. årh. (d. omkr. 990). (AI, 64-74, BI, 57-65).

Skj poems:
1. Hákonarmál
2. Háleygjatal
3. Lausavísur

Eyvindr (Eyv, c. 915-990) has been called the last important Norwegian skald (Genzmer 1920, 159; also Boyer 1990a, 201). He is listed in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 256, 261, 265-6) among the poets of Hákon góði ‘the Good’ Haraldsson and Hákon jarl Sigurðarson. His maternal grandmother was a daughter of Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’, and he seems to have been close to Haraldr’s son Hákon góði from early on, serving at his court as one of a group of brilliant skalds. After Hákon’s death he resided at the court of Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’, but relations with Haraldr seem to have soured quickly, as evidenced by his lausavísur. Eyvindr spent the last part of his life with the powerful Hákon jarl Sigurðarson of Hlaðir (Lade), whose family had supported Hákon góði against the sons of Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’. According to Hkr (ÍF 26, 221), in addition to Háleygjatal (Hál), Hákonarmál (Hák) and the lausavísur, Eyvindr composed a poem Íslendingadrápa, but this has not come down to us. The epithet skáldaspillir is usually interpreted to mean ‘Plagiarist’, literally ‘Destroyer (or Despoiler?) of Poets’ in reference to his habit of drawing inspiration from and alluding to earlier compositions, specifically Ynglingatal (Þjóð Yt) for Hál and Eiríksmál (Anon Eirm), along with several eddic poems, for Hák (see Introductions to Hál and Hák). The alternative interpretation ‘Poem-reciter’ proposed by Wadstein (1895a, 88) is unconvincing; see further Olsen (1962a, 28), and Beck (1994a). For further biographical information, see LH I, 447-9, Holm-Olsen (1953) and Marold (1993a).

Hákonarmál (‘Words about Hákon’) — Eyv HákI

R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Eyvindr skáldaspillir Finnsson, Hákonarmál’ 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. 171.

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Skj: Eyvindr Finnsson skáldaspillir: 1. Hákonarmál, 961 (AI, 64-8, BI, 57-60)

in texts: Fsk, HákGóð, Hkr, Skm, SnE

SkP info: I, 171

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Hákonarmál ‘Words about Hákon’ (Eyv Hák) is the third of a group of important praise-poems in eddic metres, the others being Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Haraldskvæði (Þhorn Harkv) and the anonymous Eiríksmál (Anon Eirm). Like Eirm, it presents the hero being conducted from the battlefield, in this case Fitjar on the island of Storð (Stord, c. 961), to the warrior afterlife in Valhǫll. It is preserved as a continuous whole, twenty-one stanzas long, at the very close of HákGóð in Hkr (ch. 31, ÍF 26, 193-7), where it is called Hákonarmál and attributed to Eyvindr skáldaspillir. The poem follows there a description of the obsequies of Hákon inn góði ‘the Good’ Haraldsson after his death from wounds received at Fitjar. Stanzas 2-6 are quoted in full in the preceding chapter to describe the battle and preparations for it, and their position in the poem as preserved in the final chapter is marked in the mss by citation of the first line or word of each. The opening and closing stanzas are also quoted in Fsk in connection with accounts of the battle and of Hákon’s reign, and there it is said that Eyvindr composed the poem in imitation of Eirm (see Note to st. 1 [All] below). The poem clearly responds to Eirm and surpasses it in its praise for the fallen king. In the earlier poem, for instance, two heroes, Sigmundr and Sinfjǫtli, are sent out from Valhǫll, hall of the slain, to meet Eiríkr, while in this poem it is two gods, Hermóðr and Bragi, who greet Hákon (see Finnur Jónsson, LH I, 450; Noreen 1922b, 540-1; Noreen 1926, 177-8; Wolf 1969). For some other resemblances to Eirm and to eddic poems, see Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 94-103), and for comparison with Hyndl 1-2, see Noreen (1921, 56-9).

Hákon, having been raised at the court of the English king Æthelstan, was certainly baptized, but Hkr and Fsk relate that in Norway he (unwillingly) adopted heathen sacrifice. At all events, these sources are detectably apologetic about the king’s show of apostasy, his pagan burial, and the heathen content of this poem (see Heinrichs 1990; and for a full analysis of the pagan elements, Krause 1990). The poem, by contrast, praises Hákon’s reverence for heathen shrines, and indeed, the last four stanzas seem a critique of Hákon’s Christian successor Haraldr gráfeldr, under whom the sanctuaries were violated and the people suffered famine and oppression (see Kershaw 1922, 102-3; Weber 1967b; and see further Note to st. 21 [All]). The paganism of the poem may in fact be polemical, as de Boor (1930, 93-4) argues that Eyvindr belonged to a group of poets dedicated to a more profound heathenism in the face of the arrival of Christianity. See the Note to st. 21/5, however, for an element that just possibly betrays a non-pagan perspective.

Contrary to Fsk’s assertion that Hák postdates Eirm, it has been suggested that Hák was actually composed earlier (so Wadstein 1895a, 87-8 and von See 1963, 115-17; see also Ehrhardt 2002a). Von See argues this on three grounds: (1) Eyvindr’s conception of Valhǫll is more archaic (see also Kuhn 1954, 428-9); (2) certain phrases that the poems share are more appropriate in the context of Hák (Hák 5/6 = Eirm 2/1-2; Hák 14/3 = Eirm 5/3); and (3) the mixture of eddic verse forms in Hák is more skilful, and presumably the poet of Eirm did not understand the pattern he was imitating. Von See’s position has been countered in detail by Wolf (1969), who argues that the portrayal of Valhǫll is a polemical response to the portrayal in Eirm, and Marold (1972), who argues that the differing portrayals represent contemporaneous, contrasting views; cf. von See’s response (1981a, 522-5). Heinrichs (1990, 434 n. 8) and Kreutzer (1999a, 397) also reject von See’s arguments.

The poem has been seen as displaying a mixture of eddic and skaldic styles; some reminiscences of eddic poems are remarked in the Notes, and see Introduction to Þhorn Harkv for a list of eddic and skaldic qualities. In the analysis of Genzmer (1920, 159-62), the initial stanza is eddic in nature; sts 2-4 lead to the purely skaldic battle scene of sts 5-8; and the remaining, greater part of the poem is eddic. He sees in the stanzas in eddic style a reflection of what early Germanic panegyric must have been like. Wolff (1939, 30) similarly notes the correspondence between skaldic style and military content in sts 5-8, but suggests that the other stanzas are eddic in style because of their mythological content. Harkv, Eirm and Hák are not, in his view, similar because they represent an ancient form but because they are a related group of poems about a king, Haraldr, and two of his sons, for which a similar, mythological theme was selected. There is, at all events, a correlation between form and content. As Paasche (1916) and others have noted, málaháttr is the metre employed to narrate the battle scenes (sts 5 to 9/4), and ljóðaháttr is used for the rest (with minor exceptions: sts 2/1-4 and 3-4 are also in málaháttr).

On the basis of these differences of form and content, Sahlgren (1927-8, I, 88-90) would identify sts 3-9 as belonging to a separate composition, with one poem composed after the battle of Fitjar and the other after the king’s death. De Vries (1964-7, I, 143) takes a similar view, though he imagines that the two parts were combined by Eyvindr rather than a later poet, and that st. 21 is a later addition (ibid., 145 n.). CPB I, 262-6, sees sts 5-8 as separate. Even Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 452; similarly Harris 1984) entertains the possibility that the final stanza, if not the entire poem, was composed several years after Hákon’s death, since he is troubled by the observation that it seems to allude to the hard times in the years after Hákon’s fall, under the oppressive reign of Haraldr gráfeldr (see SnE 1848-87, III, 452; Müllenhoff 1870-99, V, 280; the last two stanzas are regarded by Lindquist 1929, 16, as a later addition). The unity of the poem is maintained by those who, like Olsen (1916a) and Lie (1957, 83-6), attempt to demonstrate its literary integrity, and Holm-Olsen (1961b) and Boyer (1990a, 201) believe it to have been composed shortly after the king’s death.

The poem is preserved entire only in Hkr, where, as noted above, some stanzas are cited in full once and then again by first line or word. The Hkr mss used below are: Kˣ, the best paper transcript of Kringla (K), and the vellum F, both representing the ‘x’ branch of the stemma, while the ‘y’ branch is represented by the paper transcripts of Jǫfraskinna (J), J1ˣ and J2ˣ. Kˣ contains complete texts of all twenty-one stanzas, while F, J1ˣ and J2ˣ lack st. 7/2-8 and st. 8; J1ˣ and J2ˣ additionally lack st. 6/2-8. The text below is based on Kˣ. The stanzas only were copied from K into 761bˣ, with corrections (apparently from the ms.) and emendations in the hand of Árni Magnússon. This transcript is, understandably, in nearly complete agreement with Kˣ as regards substantive matters, but it supplies useful confirmation of the K readings. Stanzas 1-7, 19-20 are preserved in Fsk (the FskB transcripts FskBˣ, 51ˣ, 302ˣ and the FskA transcripts FskAˣ, 52ˣ, 301ˣ), but st. 16/4-6 is preserved in the FskA transcripts only, and st. 21 is in the FskB transcripts only. FskBˣ and FskAˣ are cited routinely in the Readings below. The other four transcripts have been examined for this edition, but are cited only for st. 16/4-6 (52ˣ and 301ˣ), and st. 21 (51ˣ and 302ˣ). Finally, sts 1, 4/5-8 and 14 are also cited in SnE (Skm); mss R, Tˣ, W, U and B contain all three citations, while C (which resembles R in regard to text) has st. 4/5-8 only.

The editio princeps is that of Peringskiöld (in Hkr 1697, I) though most stanzas (sts 1, 2/1-2, 10-21) appeared earlier in Bartholin (1689, 520-8), with Latin translation. The earliest translation into a modern language is Thomas Percy’s of 1763 (in Clunies Ross 2001a, 158-83), criticized by Herbert (1804). See Möbius (1856, 95, 101-6) and Cederström (1860, 5-6) for a record of other early editions and translations. Important editions of the poem by Möbius (1860, 232-4), Jón Helgason (1968, 23-8) and Krause (1990, 36-137) are routinely listed below, while others are cited in the Notes. Modern readers’ interest in this poem has been of long standing, producing a sizeable body of scholarship regarding it. The Notes can only very selectively represent that scholarship.

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