Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sturla Þórðarson (Sturl)

13th century; volume 2; ed. Kari Ellen Gade;

3. Hrafnsmál (Hrafn) - 20

Skj info: Sturla Þórðarson, Islandsk skjald og historiker, 1214-84 (AII, 101-29, BII, 112-36).

Skj poems:
1. Þverárvísur
2. Þorgilsdrápa
3. Hrynhenda
4. Hákonarkviða
5. Hrafnsmál
6. Hákonarflokkr
7. En drape om Magnús lagaböter
8. Lausavísur

The life of Sturla Þórðarson (Sturl) is chronicled in Sturlunga saga (Stu). He was born on 29 July 1214 as the second son of Þórðr Sturluson and his concubine Þóra, and he was the younger brother of Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson (Ólhv). In his early years he spent much time with his uncle, the poet, historian and lawspeaker Snorri Sturluson (SnSt, d. 1241), and later he took an active part in the events that played out before and after the collapse of the Icel. Commonwealth. Sturla was lawspeaker in Iceland 1251-2 and lawman, appointed by the Norw. king, 1272-82. In 1263 he went to Norway where he met King Magnús lagabœtir ‘Law-mender’ Hákonarson (d. 1280). After an initially very cool reception, the king commissioned him to write the saga of Magnús’s father Hákon Hákonarson (d. 1264) and also that of Magnús himself. Sturla later became the retainer (hirðmaðr, skutilsveinn) of Magnús and brought the law code Járnsíða ‘Ironside’ from Norway to Iceland in 1271. The story of Sturla’s journey to Norway in 1263 and his dealings with Magnús is recounted in Sturlu þáttr (StÞ), preserved in a version of Stu. In addition to the sagas of Hákon Hákonarson (Hák) and the no longer extant saga of his son Magnús lagabœtir (only two leaves are preserved in AM 325 X 4°), Sturla is the author of Íslendinga saga (Ísls) and of a redaction of Landnámabók (Ldn, in AM 107 folˣ = Stˣ). Some scholars believe that he may have been responsible for the extant redaction of Kristni saga (Kristni) (see LH 1894-1901, II, 98-105, 717-43), and he is also mentioned as an informant by the author of Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar (Gr; see ÍF 7, 157, 226, 289). Like his uncle, Snorri, and his brother, Óláfr, Sturla was a prolific poet. According to Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 260, 272, 279, 384-96), he composed poems in honour of the Norw. kings Hákon Hákonarson and Magnús lagabœtir Hákonarson, and also about the Swed. jarl Birgir Magnússon (d. 1266). Nothing is preserved of Sturla’s panegyrics to the latter, but two sts from his poetry to Magnús are recorded in Hák (see Magnússdrápa (Sturl Magndr) below). The bulk of Sturla’s poetic oeuvre about Hákon Hákonarson is interspersed with the prose in Hák: Hrynhenda (Sturl Hryn), Hákonarkviða (Sturl Hákkv), Hrafnsmál (Sturl Hrafn) and Hákonarflokkr (Sturl Hákfl). In addition to these encomia, Sturla composed poetry about events and dignitaries in Iceland: namely Þverárvísur (Sturl ÞvervIV) and Þorgilsdrápa (Sturl ÞorgdrIV), both of which have been edited in SkP IV. That is also the case with his lvv. (Sturl Lv 1-4IV). One fragment which earlier eds assigned to Hryn (earlier st. 22) has been edited in SkP III as Sturl FragIII. Sturla died on 30 July 1284 and was buried in the Church of S. Peter at Staðarhóll.

Hrafnsmál — Sturl HrafnII

Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘(Introduction to) Sturla Þórðarson, Hrafnsmál’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Brepols, Turnhout, pp. 727-45.

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Skj: Sturla Þórðarson: 5. Hrafnsmál (AII, 119-24, BII, 126-31)

in texts: Flat, Hák

SkP info: II, 727-45

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files

 

Hrafnsmál ‘Raven’s Speech’ (Sturl Hrafn) consists of twenty sts in Haðarlag metre ‘Hǫðr’s metre’ (see SnSt Ht 79III; SnE 1999, 33, 160), and it is interspersed with the prose in Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (Hák). The name is given in Flat (Flat 1860-8, III, 218, 222, 224, 226), F (F 1871, 570, 573, 575) and in 8 and 304ˣ (Hák 1977-82, 195-6, 200, 204). Hrafnsmál is also one of the names of Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s panegyric to Haraldr hárfagri (Þhorn HarkvI) and of Þormóðr Trefilsson’s poetic account of slayings and battles that took place in Iceland in the late C10th and early C11th (ÞTref HrafnV; see also Eyrbyggja saga, ÍF 4, 67, 102, 124, 156, 168). The latter poem is in Haðarlag as well, and Sturla seems to have modelled his encomium on Þormóðr’s poem. Þhorn HarkvI, a poem mostly in málaháttr metre whose main topic is the battle of Hafrsfjorden, is framed as a conversation between a valkyrie and ravens, but it is not clear what the name Hrafnsmál signifies in the other two instances (see LH 1894-1901, I, 480 n. 7). Because all three poems with this title chronicle battles and killings, however, it is likely that Hrafnsmál ‘Raven’s Speech’ alludes to birds of prey taking pleasure in the carnage. ÞTrefil Hrafn mentions ravens or eagles feasting on carrion in three out of four sts, and Sturl Hrafn contains the same imagery in sts 9, 10 and 18. Furthermore, mál ‘speech’ can also mean ‘meal’, and the subject matter of these poems certainly encompasses both meanings of that word (‘raven’s speech, speech about the raven’, ‘raven’s meal’; cf. ÞTref 5/8V þar fekk hrafn væri ‘there the raven got food’). Hrafn must have been composed after Hákon’s death in 1264, and it is cited in Hák to illustrate events that took place during his campaign to the Northern and Western Isles in 1263 (for a detailed overview of this campaign based on the extant versions of Hák and other sources, see Anderson 1922, II, 607-42). The order of the sts is chronological and unproblematic, and all extant sts are preserved in F (the main ms. for the present edn) and Flat. Stanzas 1-2, 7-11 and 18-20 are also found in 8, sts 12-17 in 304ˣ, and 325X has sts 7/7-8, 8-11, 15 and 16/1. Because of restrictions imposed by the metre, the poem contains a wealth of nominal compounds, many of which are hap. leg. and some of which are very awkward. The metrical restrictions also seem to have forced Sturla to use many inverted kennings and kennings that are hyperdetermined, such as glymstæri glyggs geira ‘the din-increaser of the storm of swords’ (st. 1/3-4; see also sts 9/6, 16/3, 4), as well as nominal circumlocutions that are not kennings, such as virðar hrings ‘men of the sword’ (st. 18/2, 4; further sts 11/6, 8, 13/7, 8 and 17/2-3). For this poem, see also Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, I, 90-104.
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