The eight stanzas edited below, Halldórr ókristni’s Eiríksflokkr ‘Flokkr about Eiríkr’ (Hókr Eirfl), all belong to a poem that Halldórr composed to commemorate Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson’s victory over King Óláfr Tryggvason at the cataclysmic battle of Svǫlðr c. 1000 (see entries for both in ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume). The title of the poem is not transmitted in any medieval source but is based on information from the ms. 310 version of ÓTOdd, which refers to Halldórr composing about Eiríkr jarl (ÍF 25, 337), and states (ibid., 347), Ok svá gerðu menn sér mikit um umrœðu um Óláf konung, at menn vildu eigi heyra at hann myndi fallit hafa, svá sem Halldórr vísar á í sínum flokki ‘And people valued the reputation of King Óláfr so highly that they refused to believe that he had fallen, as Halldórr mentions in his flokkr’. There is no mention of speculations about Óláfr’s fate after the battle of Svǫlðr in what survives of Eirfl, but Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld ‘Troublesome-poet’ (Hfr) debates that issue at length in his memorial poem about Óláfr (Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar; Hfr ErfÓl). It is quite possible, therefore, that the statement in ÓTOdd is erroneous or a slip of the pen (see Fidjestøl 1982, 114). In ms. F (F 1871, 158), st. 1 of Eirfl is introduced by þess getr halldorr okristni i eiriksdrapo ‘Halldórr ókristni tells of this in Eiríksdrápa’, which appears to be an independent addition in that ms.
The stanzas are preserved in Hkr (sts 1-4, 6-8) and ÓT (sts. 1-8) as well as in Fsk (sts 2-6, 8) and ÓTOdd (sts 2-6). The variants suggest that the ÓT version is based on a Hkr ms. of the Jöfraskinna (y) group (see Note to st. 8/8) and the stanzas in ÓTOdd must have been copied from a ms. closely related to the Fsk redaction. The order of the stanzas is on the whole unproblematic and differs only in respect of sts 3-4, which Hkr and ÓT give in the sequence 4-3, while Fsk and ÓTOdd cite sts 3-5 as a block. The present edition follows Fsk and ÓTOdd here (so also Skj and Skald; see Fidjestøl 1982, 115, 171). All stanzas are attributed to Halldórr, but some ÓT mss erroneously give Hallfreðr or Hallar-Steinn (HSt) as the poets who composed st. 7, and Hallfreðr is credited with st. 8 (see Notes to sts 7 and 8 [All]).
Eirfl must have been composed quite soon after the battle of Svǫlðr, and Eiríkr is addressed directly in st. 5/5-6 (folkharðr, fœrðuð ‘war-hard one, you brought’). Eiríkr left Norway for England in or before 1014 and died c. 1023. The latter year would then be the terminus ante quem for the poem. However, Halldórr twice (sts 3/1, 5/3) uses the adverb fjǫrð ‘last year’ (cf. ModNorw. i fjor ‘last year’) when referring to the battle and its outcome, which indicates that the poem was composed around 1001, one year after the events took place (see Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson 1937, 227 n. 1; Fidjestøl 1982, 195; Note to st. 3/1 below).
In its extant form, the poem does not contain a traditional opening stanza in which the skald asks for a hearing and, as Fidjestøl (1982, 223) notes, Eirfl is a poem in which the presence of the poet himself is almost nonexistent (aside from hykkat ‘I do not believe’, st. 5/1). Halldórr must have based his poetic narrative on hearsay (cf. kvôðu ‘they said’, st. 4/5) and could not have witnessed the events in person. Although Eiríkr jarl is the protagonist of Eirfl, it is striking that the skald’s focus is less on the jarl than on Óláfr Tryggvason’s famous warship, Ormr inn langi ‘the Long Serpent’, which Eiríkr captured at the battle (see also Fidjestøl 1982, 235). The phrase Orm(r) inn langi/langa occurs at regular intervals and in the same metrical position throughout the poem (positions 3-6, sts 3/4, 4/4, 5/8, 8/4), and thus functions almost as a stef ‘refrain’. Halldórr, like other poets commemorating the battle of Svǫlðr, also uses such synonyms as Fáfnir (the dragon killed by the legendary Sigurðr Fáfnisbani ‘Slayer of Fáfnir’) and Naðr ‘Adder’ to refer to the ship (sts 3/8, 8/6; cf. Hfr ErfÓl 10/1, Anon Óldr 19/6 and Notes). Stanzas 2, 3, 5 and 6 are all structurally very similar. Line 1 introduces a main clause which is concluded in l. 4, and l. 5 forms a new clause, introduced by þás ‘when’; hence the action is described as a sequence of events, the outcome of which is presented in the first helmingr and the action that precipitated that outcome is narrated in the second helmingr.
Most noteworthy about Eirfl are the many verbal borrowings from the poetry of earlier and contemporary skalds (see Notes to the individual stanzas below and von See 1977a). These borrowings range from similar rhyming and alliterating word-pairs to the lifting of whole lines, in particular from Einarr skálaglamm’s Vellekla (Eskál Vell), a praise-poem in honour of Eiríkr’s father, Hákon jarl, and from Hfr ErfÓl, roughly contemporary with Eirfl. Von See (1977a, 115) is probably correct when he argues that the borrowings from Vell were intentional and that Halldórr used them to call attention to the parallels between Eiríkr and his famous father, Hákon. The similarities of wording between Eirfl and ErfÓl are more difficult to explain. Eirfl appears to have been composed the year after the battle of Svǫlðr (see above), but no firm date can be established for ErfÓl, although Hallfreðr allegedly composed the poem when he arrived in Norway after hearing about Óláfr’s death (see Introduction to ErfÓl). According to von See (1977a, 116-19), Hallfreðr borrowed wholesale from Eirfl in an attempt to nullify Halldórr’s praise to Eiríkr and turn it into a poem in honour of Óláfr. Eirfl also contains echoes of poetry by earlier skalds, however, and, as noted, it is very likely that Halldórr consciously borrowed from Vell. Hence the lexical borrowing could equally well have gone in the opposite direction.
The mss used in the present edition are: the Hkr mss Kˣ, F, J1ˣ and J2ˣ for sts 1-4, 6-8, plus 325VIII 1 for sts 3, 4, 6; the ÓT mss 54 and Bb for sts 1 (lacking ll. 1-2), 2-8, plus 61, 53, 325VIII 2 g and Flat for subsets of sts 1-8; the Fsk mss FskAˣ for sts 2-6, 8 and FskBˣ for sts 2, 8, plus mss 51ˣ, 302ˣ for st. 2, since their readings are of particular value there; the ÓTOdd ms. 310 for sts 2-6, plus Holm18 and 4-7 for subsets of these. Kˣ is the main ms. for sts 1-4, 6-8, and FskAˣ the main ms. for st. 5.