Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorkell Gíslason (ÞGísl)

12th century; volume 1; ed. Emily Lethbridge;

Búadrápa (Búdr) - 12

Skj info: Þórkell Gíslason, Islandsk skjald, 12. årh. (AI, 553-5, BI, 536-8).

Skj poems:

Þorkell (ÞGísl) is named as the poet of Búadrápa in ÓT (1958-2000, 180), but beyond that nothing is known about him and his name does not appear in Skáldatal.

Búadrápa — ÞGísl BúdrI

Emily Lethbridge and Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þorkell Gíslason, Búadrápa’ 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. 941.

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Skj: Þórkell Gíslason: Búadrápa (AI, 553-5, BI, 536-8)

in texts: ÓT

SkP info: I, 941

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


BúadrápaDrápa about Búi’ (ÞGísl Búdr) is preserved solely in ÓT, which cites nine full stanzas and three helmingar in the course of its account of the famous sea-battle at Hjǫrungavágr (probably Liavågen, Møre og Romsdal, Norway). This battle was fought c. 985 between a Norwegian force led by the jarls Hákon Sigurðarson and his son Eiríkr and a Wendish-Danish force led by Búi Vésetason and Vagn Ákason, leaders of the warrior fraternity later known as the Jómsvíkingar. (On the jarls, the battle and other skaldic poetry associated with it, see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume; for other Jómsvíkingar at the battle named in ÓT, see Context to st. 1.) The poem is normally dated some two hundred years after the battle (e.g. de Vries 1964-7, II, 259).

The poem portrays warriors eagerly boarding ships and braving storms to reach Norway (sts 1-3), where they engage in a ferocious ship-board battle (sts 4-12). Much of this is fairly general and stereotyped, though often skilful (as when the suspended clause in st. 5/1, 3 mimics violent bodily dismemberment); some details, however, are specific to the battle between the Jómsvíkingar and the Norwegian jarls. Despite the title, the focus of the poem is only partially on the eponymous Búi, and other individuals and their actions are also singled out and emphasised. Thus in addition to the vivid descriptions of Búi’s advance (st. 8) and his leap overboard with a treasure-chest in each hand (st. 11), there are memorable images of Vagn cutting down his enemies (st. 12) and, on the Norwegian side, Eiríkr jarl clearing ships (st. 12). Supernatural motifs that seem to be traditionally associated with the legend are also introduced: unnatural storms with hailstones weighing an eyrir ‘ounce’ each (sts 9-10), and a troll-woman who shoots arrows from her fingers joining the battle against the Jómsvíkingar (st. 10).

The prose narrative about the Jómsvíkingar in ÓT chs 86-90 (ÓT 1958-2000, I, 177-200) is largely based on ÓTHkr chs 34-42 (ÍF 26, 272-86) and Jvs (see Ólafur Halldórsson 2000). ÓT takes over the authenticating poetry cited in ÓTHkr (ÞKolb Eir 1-4, Tindr Hák 1, 3/5-8 and 4, though not Eyv Hál 11) and adds the surviving stanzas of Búdr as well as sixteen complete stanzas and two helmingar from Jómsvíkingadrápa (Bjbp Jóms). Búdr is cited neither in Hkr nor Jvs: perhaps it was not available at the time of these works’ writing, or perhaps it was not highly valued as an historical source (see Heslop 2006a on the ÓT compiler’s inclusion of skaldic poetry, much of it not extant elsewhere). Together with the metre of the poem (below) and its supernatural motifs, which may derive from the Jvs tradition (see Note to st. 10 [All]), this points to composition at some point between the twelfth century and the compilation of ÓT in the fourteenth century; the poem’s incomplete state suggests that it predates the compilation of ÓT.

The title Búadrápa and the name of the author are given at the point where st. 1 is cited, and the remaining stanzas are also explicitly assigned to Búdr, with the exception of sts 2, 3, 9 and 10, which appear from their content and distinctive metre to belong to the poem. That the extant poem is a fragment of a more substantial original is suggested by the fact that three stanzas are isolated helmingar and perhaps by the lack of sustained focus on Búi and the abrupt ending (whereas Bjbp Jóms 39-45 depicts the execution of several of the Jómsvíkingar, with Vagn as a triumphant exception). Further, as a drápa it might be expected to have been composed on a grander scale and structured using one or more stef ‘refrain(s)’. Nevertheless, the poem as it stands makes a relatively coherent narrative sequence, spanning the battle from the approach to the defeat of the Jómsvíkingar, and in reconstructing it there is no evident reason to modify the order given in ÓT.

The metre of Búdr is a runhent ‘end-rhymed’ version of Haðarlag ‘Hǫðr’s metre’, which in turn is a skaldic variant, with hendingar, of málaháttr ‘speech metre’ or ‘speeches form’ (see ‘Skaldic metres’ in General Introduction). The lines therefore have five syllables (or six, with resolution of two short syllables), with both alliteration and end-rhyme linking the pairs of lines. The closest match in Háttatal is SnSt Ht 83III, but the end-rhyme there is full, all eight lines sharing the same feminine rhyme (alla : valla etc.), whereas Búdr has minimal runhent, the lines rhyming in pairs, except in st. 6 where the four lines of each helmingr rhyme, and in st. 11 where ll. 1-2, 3-6 and 7-8 rhyme. As is characteristic in runhent poetry, syntactically end-stopped lines are relatively common (Faulkes, SnE 2007, 89), resulting in a proliferation of simple, staccato clauses which highlight the starkly graphic images presented.

The sources for the poem are two late fourteenth-century mss of ÓT: 61 from the A class and 53 (lacking sts 1-3 because of a lacuna) from the B class, together with the late fourteenth-century 54 and early fifteenth-century Bb from the C class; see the stemma by Ólafur Halldórsson (ÓT 1958-2000, III, cccix), and ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume. The pattern of readings in the poem is in general agreement with the stemma. Thus 61 has the best text overall, and is used as the main ms. here, while an agreement of B- and C-class mss against 61 may indicate the more original reading, though it does not necessarily do so, since the B and C classes branch from the *Y node alongside A. Bb, as elsewhere, contains several readings that are clearly secondary.

Previous editions of Búdr are chiefly to be found either in the main skaldic compilations, Finnur Jónsson’s Skj and Kock’s Skald (the absence of entries in Kock’s NN reflecting the relative scarcity of textual problems), or in editions of ÓT (Fms 1, with notes in Fms 12, and the diplomatic edition ÓT 1958-2000). A further resource is Ólafur Halldórsson (2000), a text of the legend of the Jómsvíkingar, with variants, drawn from Ólafur’s 1958-2000 edition of ÓT; the Búdr stanzas appear on pp. 23-31 and prose word orders are given on pp. 76-83, and these references are cited routinely below. Editions by Åkerblom (1916b) and Wisén (1870, 64) are cited when appropriate in the Notes.

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