Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hallar-Steinn (HSt)

12th century; volume 1; ed. Rolf Stavnem;

1. Rekstefja (Rst) - 35

Skj info: Hallar-Steinn, Islandsk skjald, 12. årh. (AI, 543-53, BI, 525-35).

Skj poems:
1. Rekstefja
2. a. Af et digt om en kvinde
2. b. Af et digt om Skáldhelgi(?)

Nothing is known about this skald (HSt) except what can be deduced from his nickname, which has been identified with the farm-name Höll, in Þverárhlíð, Mýrasýsla, western Iceland (Finnur Jónsson 1907, 185), and from the poetry attributed to him. His main extant work is the drápa Rekstefja (HSt Rst), whose ambitious praise of Óláfr Tryggvason might well point to Iceland at the end of the twelfth century or somewhat later (see Skj, and Introduction to the poem below). Hallar-Steinn has been identified (e.g. by Wisén 1886-9, I, 143) with the eleventh-century poet Steinn Herdísarson (SteinnII), but this is implausible. HSt Frag 1, of uncertain origin but probably attributable to this poet, may also commemorate Óláfr Tryggvason, while HSt Frag 2-5III represent a love-lorn poet. These fragments are preserved only in treatises on poetics and grammar, and are therefore edited in SkP III, as are two further fragments, HSt Frag 6-7III.

Rekstefja (‘Split-refrain’) — HSt RstI

Rolf Stavnem 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallar-Steinn, Rekstefja’ 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. 893.

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Skj: Hallar-Steinn: 1. Rekstefja (AI, 543-52, BI, 525-34); stanzas (if different): 3 | 4 | 5

in texts: Flat, ÓT

SkP info: I, 893

notes: incomplete; Lots of verses in ÓT

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Hallar-Steinn’s Rekstefja, possibly ‘Split-refrain’ (HSt Rst; see below on title), is a drápa in thirty-five stanzas describing the life and death of the Norwegian king Óláfr Tryggvason (r. c. 995-c. 1000). After the traditional bid for a hearing (st. 1), the skald outlines Óláfr’s youth in Russia (sts 2-4), then tells of his success as a warlord raiding in the British Isles and elsewhere (sts 5-8), his missionary activities Christianizing five countries (sts 9-11), and his qualities as leader, including generosity towards his men (sts 12-14). He then narrates Óláfr’s last battle at Svǫlðr (sts 15-23), comments on the further course of the poem (st. 24), relates incidents, some semi-miraculous, proving Óláfr’s extraordinary agility, strength, piety and closeness to God (sts 25-31), praises God (sts 32-3) and concludes with remarks on previous praise-poems for Óláfr and the status of his own work (sts 34-5). From this summary it is clear that the poem follows the traditional pattern of a saint’s life (vita). Óláfr Tryggvason was never acknowledged as a saint and no formally recognised miracles were associated with him, but he was revered as a missionary king, a ‘friend of God’ (Guðs vinr) and as the John the Baptist to S. Óláfr’s (Óláfr Haraldsson’s) Christ; see, e.g., the Prologus to ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 125). Interest in Óláfr was particularly intense in Iceland from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, and the poem bears witness to that, as do works including the anonymous Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar (Anon Óldr) and Poem about Óláfr Tryggvason (Anon Ól) in this volume, and the sagas of Óláfr Tryggvason: those by Oddr Snorrason (ÓTOdd, originally in Latin) and Gunnlaugr Leifsson (now lost, also Latin) and the expansive ÓT; see further Sveinbjörn Rafnsson (2005) and Heslop (2006a). Rst echoes earlier skaldic poetry (see, e.g., Note to st. 12 [All] and de Vries 1964-7, II, 43 nn. 78-80) and has kinship with twelfth-century poems celebrating heroes of the past: Þorkell Gíslason’s drápa about the Jómsvíkingar, Búadrápa (ÞGísl Búdr), and Einarr Skúlason’s great hagiographic drápa about Óláfr Haraldsson, Geisli (ESk GeislVII), whose closing words, en ek þagna ‘and I fall silent’ (ESk Geisl 71/8VII) are echoed in HSt Rst 35/8. There are particularly striking parallels with Anon Óldr, which is of uncertain date (see Introduction to Óldr).

Rekstefja is attributed to Hallar-Steinn in all mss except Flat, which consistently attributes the stanzas to the lǫgmaðr ‘lawspeaker’ Markús Skeggjason (MarkII; d. 1107), though there is no evidence to support this. The poet is conscious of his distance from earlier poetry on Óláfr (st. 34), and Rst appears to belong to the late twelfth or early thirteenth century (e.g. Skj AI, 543, BI, 525). The following seem to support this. (1) The relationship with ESk GeislVII, mentioned above. (2) The blend of saint’s vita and traditional encomium for a warlord is compatible with a date after the tenth- and eleventh-century praise poetry and before the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century devotional poetry. (3) The metrical evidence is also compatible with this dating, since aðalhendingar of a : ǫ are still used (see below), and linguistic changes of the thirteenth and fourteenth century do not appear to be indicated by hendingar. (4) The metre itself (below) is a learned construct of the sort that reaches its height in SnSt HtIII in the 1220s. Nothing is known about the context for the composition of the poem, or about its audience, beyond the fact that the poet addresses women in sts 1 and 35 but seems to have a male audience in mind in sts 24 and 32, and to address an individual male in st. 35; among possible scenarios would be a religious community where women predominate. The poet is technically ambitious, highly accomplished (although viewed as emotionally cold by de Vries, 1964-7, II, 43), and was clearly familiar with both skaldic and hagiographic conventions. De Vries (ibid., 44) suggests that the theme of thwarted love in HSt Frag 2-5III places those stanzas at the end of the thirteenth century, but this conclusion seems unwarranted. A still later dating for Rst, contemporary with ÓT, is proposed by Sveinbjörn Rafnsson (2005, 185-8).

The full meaning of the title Rekstefja, which is found in st. 1/4, is uncertain. The second element ‑stefja clearly refers to the stef or refrain in the poem (cf., e.g. Sexstefja ‘Six-Refrains’ (ÞjóðA SexII)), but various interpretations of rek- (cf. reka ‘drive’) are possible on the evidence of Old Norse lexical usage and the characteristics of the poem’s stef. This consists of three lines, and one of the three occupies the last line of each stanza from st. 9 to 23; thus, these fifteen lines consist of a five-fold repetition of the refrain (for the complete refrain, see Note to st. 9/8). This configuration could point to the sense ‘Split-refrain’ for the title (so, e.g., LP: Rekstefja); cf. the term klofastef ‘split refrain’ as applied to Edáð Banddr, Sigv Knútdr and Þloft Tøgdr (see Introductions to these). Further possibilities are ‘with inlaid refrains’ (cf. the past participle rekinn, used of weapons inlaid with precious metal; LP: 2. rekinn) or ‘extended’, which is the sense of rekit when applied to kennings comprising four or more elements (SnE 1998, I, 74, and see ‘The diction of skaldic poetry’ in General Introduction).

The poem is preserved continuously in Bergsbók (Bb), and this continuous text is referred to throughout this edition as the Bb version or Bb text. Rst is the first of four extended skaldic poems written out in Bb between texts of ÓT and ÓH; the others are Anon Óldr, Anon LilVII and ESk GeislVII. Twenty-five stanzas (whole or partial) of Rst are also found in ÓT, and these are collectively referred to below as the ÓT version or text. The ÓT compiler selects and arranges extracts from the poem (sometimes as single helmingar) to suit the specific context (see Heslop 2006a, 385-7). He cites stanzas from Rst alongside poetry from Óláfr Tryggvason’s own era (from Hfr ErfÓl, Hókr Eirfl and ÞKolb Eirdr) without distinguishing the eulogy of past heroes from contemporary material. The Bb text makes a satisfactory whole in terms of both content and structure, and may well be complete, with its opening section of eight stanzas, fifteen stanzas of stefjabálkr ‘refrain section’, divided into five groups of three, and a slœmr or final section of twelve stanzas. The Bb ordering of stanzas is therefore followed in this edition, just as Bb is taken as the main ms. in the editing of individual stanzas (see further below). A particular problem arises from sts 3-5, where the Bb version has Óláfr raiding in the British Isles and Wendland and then back to the British Isles, whereas the ÓT version followed in Skj has more geographical logic. Given the uncertainties about the early career of Óláfr and the probability that complicated viking itineraries may have been simplified or misunderstood in later tradition (see Introduction to Hfr Óldr), however, it would be unwise to depart from the ms. evidence here. Hence sts 3, 4 and 5 in the present edition are equivalent to sts 4, 5, 3 in Skj (and therefore Skald); for the remainder of the poem Skj follows the Bb ordering.

The metre is a variant of dróttkvætt called tvískelft ‘twice-trembled’ or ‘double-shaken’, and Hallar-Steinn himself refers in st. 35/4 to tvískelfð drápa (‘drápa in tvískelft’) and comments on the rarity of the metre. A recurrent feature is that in odd lines the two alliterating staves are in positions 1 and 3, and this may be the ‘trembling’ effect that Hallar-Steinn had in mind. Most odd lines also belong to Sievers’ Type A2l (Sievers 1893, 103) with a long syllable in position 2, which in practice means that the first three syllables are heavy in the majority of the odd lines. There are several exceptions, however, where odd lines are regular Type A2-lines rather than A2l (e.g. sts 7/5, 7/7, 11/7, and cf. Kock, NN §2543). The hendingar in Rst frequently fall in positions 1 and 5, but placing in positions 2 and 5 also occurs, and in this respect the poem resembles skjálfhent ‘tremble-rhymed’ stanzas (SnSt Ht 35III, RvHbreiðm Hl 81-2III), while Snorri’s tvískelft stanza (SnSt Ht 28III) has the hendingar in positions 1 and 5 in all four odd lines. Meanwhile, the poem is notable for the irregularity with which the traditional rule of internal rhyme is observed, and given the number of occurrences of irregular rhyme shared by both the Bb and the ÓT versions, this cannot be explained by simple misreadings or corruptions in transmission. Traditionally dróttkvætt requires skothending ‘half rhyme’ in odd lines and aðalhending ‘full rhyme’ in even lines. However, in the present edition of Rst there are several occurrences of full rhyme in odd lines (sts 2/5, 3/3, 3/7, 4/1, 4/5, 5/5, 5/7, 6/5, 8/7, 9/1, 12/7, 16/5, 20/1, 21/1, 22/5, 22/7, 23/5, 23/7, 25/5, 27/1, 29/1, 30/3, 31/3, 32/5). On the other hand, some of the aðalhendingar in even lines may be inexact: Óláf : stôlum (st. 3/8, see Note), hôtt : dróttir (st. 8/2), hollr : ǫllu (st. 11/8, stef), hóps : drôpu (st. 35/4), and hending is lacking in st. 35/2. A special case is of aðalhendingar of a : ǫ (long and short), which were permitted until at least the twelfth century (see Hreinn Benediktsson 1963; Kuhn 1983, 79) and occur in Rst in even lines where aðalhending is required, e.g. hjaldr : skjǫldu (st. 12/2), frár : ôrum (st. 25/8). Rst contains relatively high proportions of inverted kennings and of abnormal placement of finite verbs within main clauses, and the distinctive and demanding metre may be the partial cause of these phenomena; further research would be needed to establish this.

As noted above, all thirty-five stanzas are preserved in Bb, and twenty-five of these (sts 2-6, 9, 12-23, 25-31) are also embedded in ÓT, hence in mss 61, 53, 54, Bb, 325VIII 2 b, 62, Flat. Mss 54, Bb, Flat have all twenty-five stanzas, while 61 lacks sts 16-20; 53 lacks sts 4, 9, 22, 30, 31; 62 lacks sts 12-23, 25-31 and 325VIII 2 b has only sts 18, 19; the texts of a few stanzas are incomplete in some or all of the ÓT mss. Judging from the substantial variation between the continuous Bb version and the version embedded in ÓT, there seem to be two different transmission processes. Fidjestøl (1982, 53) suggests that at least one of these could have been under the influence of oral tradition. The two versions are, as already noted, referred to in this edition as the Bb and ÓT versions, but since Bb contains both versions folio numbers are used to distinguish between them where necessary: the drápa is recorded complete on Bb 111va-112va, whereas the stanzas embedded in ÓT range from Bb 16ra to Bb 100rb.

The textual divergences between the Bb and ÓT versions are numerous, though often minor, and neither has a clear majority of preferable readings, so that an edition based on either has to have regard to the other; significant divergences are mentioned in the Notes below. Most earlier editions of Rst (including Skj B and Skald) have been based on the ÓT version, with 61 as the main ms. and supplemented by readings from the Bb version, though Bb is the basis for the editions by Guðbrandur Vigfússon (CPB II, 294-300), Wisén (1886-9, I, 46-50) and Konráð Gíslason (1895-7, I, 185-290). The present edition uses Bb as the main ms. for the following reasons: (1) The Bb version is complete, whereas the ÓT version only covers twenty-five stanzas in all, and given the substantial differences between the two traditions it is preferable to follow one version as far as possible instead of combining two. (2) Although Bb is relatively young in relation to the extant mss and has a low stemmatic priority as an ÓT text (cf. ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume), there is nothing to indicate that the Bb version represents a younger version of the drápa. On the contrary, it displays fewer metrical flaws than the ÓT version.

The Context sections for sts 2-6, 9, 12-23, 25-31 below summarise the accompanying prose of ÓT. Because sts 1, 7-8, 10-11, 24 and 32-5 are preserved only within the continuous text in Bb, there is no Context for those.

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