Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þórðr Kolbeinsson (ÞKolb)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Jayne Carroll;

Eiríksdrápa (Eirdr) - 17

Skj info: Þórðr Kolbeinsson, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 212-19, BI, 202-9).

Skj poems:
1. Belgskakadrápa
2. Gunnlaugsdrápa ormstungu
3. Eiríksdrápa
4. Lausavísur

Þórðr Kolbeinsson (ÞKolb) was born c. 974 in Iceland (ÍF 3, lxxxviii). The Hauksbók version of Ldn names his father as Kolbeinn klakkhǫfði ‘Lump-head’ (?) Atlason, from Atley (Atløy) in Norway, while the Sturlubók version names him as Kolbeinn Þórðarson (ÍF 1, 99, 144, lxiv-vi). Þórðr’s mother is said in Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa (BjH, ÍF 3, 168) to be called Arnóra; in Ldn (ÍF 1, 142) she is also identified as the daughter of Gunnbjǫrn. Þórðr’s home was at Hítarnes in western Iceland; the poet Arnórr jarlaskáld (ArnII), one of Þórðr’s five sons, was born there. Two other sons, Kolbeinn and Kolli, are named in BjH, and three unnamed daughters are also mentioned (ÍF 3, 125, 171-2, 174, 179, 208). Nothing is known about Þórðr’s death.

Þórðr is famous as the villain of BjH, in which he marries Oddný eykyndill ‘Island-candle’ Þorkelsdóttir, having deceived her into believing that Bjǫrn Arngeirsson (BjhítV), to whom she is betrothed, is dead. This intensifies a life-long feud between Þórðr and Bjǫrn which ends with Bjǫrn’s death at Þórðr’s hands.

Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 257, 258, 261, 262, 266, 274, 280, 283) names Þórðr as poet to four rulers: Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson of Hlaðir (Lade; d. c. 1023); the Norwegian kings Óláfr Haraldsson (d. 1030) and, in the U redaction, Magnús góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson (d. 1047); and, in the 761aˣ redaction, the Danish king Sveinn Úlfsson (d. 1076). Of these, only Eiríkr is named in source texts as the recipient of surviving stanzas, although BjH (ÍF 3, 126-7) has Þórðr compose and recite a drápa for Óláfr. It is doubtful on chronological grounds that Þórðr composed for Sveinn Úlfsson, and it has been suggested (Fidjestøl 1982, 117) that confusion with Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ (d. 1014) might lie behind the erroneous listing. Seventeen stanzas about Eiríkr jarl survive, and in this edition all are attributed to Eiríksdrápa (ÞKolb Eirdr) with varying degrees of confidence. BjH places Þórðr in Eiríkr’s retinue in Norway, c. 1007, delivering a poem entitled Belgskakadrápa ‘Bag-shaking drápa’ (ÍF 3, 115-9), but this may be the same poem as Eirdr, whose content suggests that Þórðr paid court to Eiríkr in England after the conquest of Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great) in 1016 and before Eiríkr’s death c. 1023 (see Introduction to Eirdr). In addition to Eirdr, twelve lausavísur (ÞKolb Lv 1-12V) are preserved in BjH, mostly directed against the saga’s hero, Bjǫrn, and a single stanza said to be by Þórðr (ÞKolb GunndrV) survives in praise of the poet Gunnlaugr ormstungu ‘Serpent-tongue’ Illugason (GunnlIV, d. c. 1008; ÍF 3, 101-2). These are edited in SkP V.

Eiríksdrápa — ÞKolb EirdrI

Jayne Carroll 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þórðr Kolbeinsson, Eiríksdrápa’ 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. 487.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17 

Skj: Þórðr Kolbeinsson: 3. Eiríksdrápa, 1014 (AI, 213-217, BI, 203-206); stanzas (if different): 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Gramm, Hkr, Jvs, Knýtl, ÓH, ÓHHkr, ÓT, ÓTC, Skm, SnE, TGT

SkP info: I, 487

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The seventeen whole or part stanzas edited below are presented as parts of one poem, Þórðr Kolbeinsson’s EiríksdrápaDrápa about Eiríkr’ (ÞKolb Eirdr), composed in praise of Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014; d. c. 1023; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume). The stanzas narrate Eiríkr’s actions up to the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen, c. 985) against the forces later known as the Jómsvíkingar (sts 1-5); the murder of his father Hákon jarl, Óláfr Tryggvason’s arrival in Norway, and Eiríkr’s exile in Sweden at the court of King Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ (sts 6-7); the battle of Svǫlðr (c. 1000) and its aftermath (sts 8-10); and Eiríkr’s call from Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great) to join him in England, the voyage, and the campaigns there (sts 11-16), including the siege of London (st. 14) and the battle at Hringmaraheiðr (Ringmere Heath) (st. 15 and possibly 16); st. 17 is general praise.

The stanzas are variously preserved in Hkr, ÓT and ÓH; in Fsk and Jvs; in Knýtl; and in SnE and TGT (see details below). All seventeen are explicitly attributed to Þórðr (see Note to st. 17 [All] for a minor exception); no stef ‘refrain’ appears to survive. The title of the poem is given as Eiríksdrápa in the introductory prose to eleven of the stanzas (sts 1-4, 6, 11-16), in one or more of the texts that preserve them, but it is uncertain whether all seventeen stanzas belong to the poem. Bjarnar saga Hítdœlakappa (BjH; ÍF 3, 119) records that Þórðr composed a poem called Belgskakadrápa for Eiríkr. The title may mean ‘Bag-shaking drápa’, possibly a reference to the skald’s desire for recompense, and according to the saga’s chronology, the poem would have been composed c. 1007.

If any stanzas survived from Belgskakadrápa, the most likely candidates would be sts 6-7 below, which apparently contain a direct address to Eiríkr (see Note to st. 6/1-2). They are cited twice in the Hkr mss (by first line only at the repeat) and attributed to Þórðr without the source poem being specified, except that the J transcripts name Belgskakadrápa (belgscaga- in the mss) at the second citation. In ÓT, st. 6 is attributed to Eirdr at the first citation and to Belgskakadrápa (belgskaga/-skaka in the mss) at the second. Stanzas 5-7 are cited as a unit in Fsk, and no title is given. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 562; Skj B) assigns these three to Belgskakadrápa and, following BjH, places the delivery of the poem at Eiríkr’s Norwegian court in 1007. He assigns all the other stanzas to Eirdr, and as usual the Skj arrangement is retained in Skald. In Skj, Finnur dates Eirdr to 1014 but in LH I, 562 he interprets the poem as an erfidrápa ‘memorial drápa’, composed after Eiríkr’s death in 1022 (more correctly 1023 or later; see below).

Passages in BjH and Fsk, however, suggest that Þórðr produced only one poem for Eiríkr jarl. BjH (ÍF 3, 119) states, Drápa sú, er hann orti um Eirík jarl, heitir Belgskakadrápa ‘The drápa which he composed about Eiríkr jarl is called Belgskakadrápa’ and Fsk (ÍF 29, 129) introduces sts 2 to 4/1-4 with Þetta segir Þórðr Kolbeinssonr í kvæði, er hann orti um Eirík jarlÞórðr Kolbeinsson says this in the poem that he composed about Eiríkr jarl’. Given this, and the contradictory evidence presented by ÓT, Fidjestøl (1982, 116) concludes that Þórðr composed one poem about Eiríkr, which was known by two names (cf. Arn HrynII; see also CPB II, 102-5), and this edition similarly treats the seventeen stanzas as belonging to a single poem. Fidjestøl further suggests that sts 9-10, attributed to Þórðr but not to a particular poem, might belong to an erfidrápa about King Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’, but there is little difficulty in accommodating them in Eirdr. Stanza 17, on the other hand, is so general as to be compatible with any praise-poem by Þórðr, and its assumed place in Eirdr rests largely on the fact that Eiríkr is the subject of most of Þórðr’s surviving stanzas.

The order of certain of the first ten stanzas is somewhat problematic because of differences between Hkr and ÓT on the one hand and Fsk on the other. Stanzas 1-4 and 6-10 are preserved in that order in Hkr and ÓT. Stanza 5 (a single helmingr) appears only in Fsk, immediately before 6-7, and is therefore presented in that position here. However, in Fsk it forms a stanza with st. 6/1-4, while st. 6/5-8 forms a stanza with st. 7/1-4, and st. 7/5-8 is presented as a single helmingr. There is little conclusive evidence for one configuration rather than the other and therefore the pragmatic decision to follow the main ms. has been taken in this edition (so also Skj and Fidjestøl 1982, 116; see also Note to st. 5 [All]). A further difficulty is presented by sts 9-10. In Fsk, sts 9/5-8 and 10/5-8 form a stanza, st. 9/1-4 stands alone, and st. 10/1-4 is absent. Fsk’s arrangement is awkward. To support its account of the division of Norway following Svǫlðr, it couples a helmingr concerned with these events, c. 1000, with one on Sveinn’s death fourteen years later, and st. 9/1-4, which mentions Óláfr Tryggvason’s brother-in-law Erlingr, is consigned to a passage of generalised comment on Eiríkr’s reign.

The composition context, even assuming that we have a single drápa on Eiríkr, is unclear. Given the chronological range of the poem’s subject-matter, the context given in BjH (c. 1007) cannot be taken at face value. The poem must have been composed after Knútr’s conquest of England in 1016, and, as there is no indication within the text that the dedicatee is dead, it should probably be dated earlier than Eiríkr’s death c. 1023 (Keynes 1994, 57-8; Poole 1987, 270). Stanza 6 probably contains an apostrophe, but its text is difficult (see Note to st. 6/1-2), and in any case incontrovertible proof that Eiríkr is the addressee is lacking. Fidjestøl (1982, 195) tentatively categorises the poem as an ervekvæde (ON erfikvæði) ‘memorial poem’, but there is nothing in the text to support this. Recent critical opinion (Poole 1987; Townend 2001) has it that the poem emanates from the Anglo-Scandinavian context of Knútr’s English court. Although the textual evidence for this is not as strong as has been suggested (see Note to st. 14/6), the ‘dual focus of praise’ (Townend 2001, 163) on Eiríkr and Knútr supports the hypothesis (see also Hofmann 1955, 71-5).

Eirdr has enjoyed an increase in status as historical source material in recent years. A. Campbell (1971, 15) dismissed its account of Eiríkr’s activities in England as ‘totally lacking in knowledge’, but the reassessments of skaldic poetry’s contribution to English history by Poole (1987) and Townend (2001) have set greater store by Þórðr’s reports (see Notes to sts 14/4 and 15/7). While Þórðr’s role as poet (and presumably performer) is frequently foregrounded through first-person forms (sts 6/8, 9/1, 9/3, 9/6, 11/2, 11/6, 12/4) and present-tense forms (sts 2/3, 6/2, 8/7, 8/8, 10/2, 10/7), there is no compelling evidence for his presence at any of the events described. Eirdr shows signs of indebtedness to earlier poetry (see Notes to sts 2/7, 15/4), and praise for the poem has been lukewarm (LH I, 563; Turville-Petre 1976, 75; Gade 1993), but Þórðr’s images of seafaring in particular are vivid and he has an ear for verbs that play on the constituent parts of his kennings (e.g. st. 3/1, 3/7). His technical competence has never been in doubt.

The mss used in this edition are as follows. The Hkr mss , F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ are used for sts 1-4, 6-10, plus 39 for sts 2-4, 325VIII 1 for sts 1-3, and 325XI 2 i for sts 9-10; additionally has sts 11, 14. The ÓT mss 61, 54, Bb are used for sts 1-4, 6-11, 14, plus 53 for sts 6-7, 9-11, 14, Flat for sts 6-11, 14, and 325 VIII 2 g for sts 9-10. The ÓH mss Holm2, R686ˣ, 972ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, 75c, 325V, Bb, Tóm are used for sts 11, 14, plus 325VII for st. 11/1-6. The Fsk mss FskBˣ and FskAˣ are used for sts 2-3, 4/1-4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10/5-8. The Jvs ms. 510 is used for sts 2-3. The Knýtl mss JÓ (strictly a printed text), 20dˣ, 873ˣ, 41ˣ are used for sts 12-16, plus 20i 23ˣ for sts 14-16. The SnE mss R, , A, and C are used for sts 2/1-4, 9/5-8, 17, plus U for sts 2/1-4, 17, and B for st. 17. The TGT mss A and W are used for st. 7/5-8. The main ms. is for sts 1-4, 6-11, 14; FskBˣ for st. 5; JÓ for sts 12-13, 15-16; and R for 17.

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