Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hallbjǫrn hali (Hhal)

12th century; volume 1; ed. Kate Heslop;

Lausavísa (Lv) - 1

Skj info: Hallbjǫrn hali, Islænder, 12. årh. (AI, 540, BI, 521).

Skj poems:

Hallbjǫrn hali (‘Tail’; Hhal) was an Icelander, the shepherd of an otherwise unknown Þorkell of Þingvellir, according to Þorleifs þáttr jarlaskálds (ÞorlJ; ÍF 9, 227). Only one stanza attributed to him survives, in connection with an anecdote telling how he acquired poetic skill from the ghost of Þorleifr jarlsskáld (Þjsk) in a dream (see Lausavísa below). According to ÞorlJ Þorleifr was killed by agents of Hákon jarl, whose death c. 995 would supply an approximate terminus a quo for Þorleifr’s appearance as a ghost. If Hallbjǫrn is taken as a historical figure, therefore, as Almqvist (1965-74, I, 193) thinks he should be, he would have been alive in the late tenth century. However, doubt remains about this and about the authenticity of the stanza. Similarities between the anecdote and Skáldskaparmál’s account of poetics have been noted (SnE 1848-87, III, 374; ÍF 9, ci), and if these are genuine signs of influence, they would date it to after the mid-thirteenth century, and Hallbjǫrn may be fictional. Further, a Hallbjǫrn hali is named in Skáldatal as the poet of Knútr Eiríksson, King of Sweden (d. 1195) and King Sverrir of Norway (d. 1202), and it is tempting to identify this figure with the Hallbjǫrn of ÞorlJ, who is said to have travelled abroad and composed praise-poems for many rulers. This is presumably the reason why Finnur Jónsson dates the stanza c. 1190 in Skj (cf. LH II, 75-6). Two other men called Hallbjǫrn hali appear in the sources (SnE 1848-87, III, 370-6; ÍF 9, 229 n. 1), but they are almost certainly different people.

Lausavísa — Hhal LvI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Hallbjǫrn hali, Lausavísa’ 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. 362.


Skj: Hallbjǫrn hali: Lausavísa, o. 1190 (AI, 540, BI, 521); stanzas (if different): [v]

in texts: Flat, ÞorlJ

SkP info: I, 362

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The stanza (Hhal Lv) commemorates the poet Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson (Þjsk), and is preserved only in ÞorlJ, in an anecdote summarised in the Context, to which several analogues exist. In these tales, a non-poet receives either lines of poetry or the gift of composition in a dream. Among the best-known examples are the story of the cowherd Caedmon in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (Colgrave and Mynors 1969, 414-19), and a story about a verse commemorating Bede, which is preserved in the fourteenth-century Icelandic ms. AM 764 4o; see SnE 1848-87, III, 374-5; ÍF 9, c; Turville-Petre 1972b, 42-3, 49-50; see also Sigv Lv 1 for another skaldic stanza associated with a curious anecdote accounting for the gift of composing poetry. See the Biography above for theories of authorship and dating of Hhal Lv. Although doubt must remain, the late tenth-century dating is taken at face value in the present edition. The text is normalised accordingly, and the stanza is placed among late tenth-century poetry, following the poetry of Þorleifr jarlsskáld and Svtjúg Lv, which refers to Þorleifr. The mss used here are Flat, 4867ˣ and 563ˣ (see entry for ÞorlJ, in ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume).

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