Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorbjǫrn hornklofi (Þhorn)

9th century; volume 1; ed. R. D. Fulk;

1. Glymdrápa (Gldr) - 10

Skj info: Þórbjǫrn hornklofi, Norsk skjald; omkr. 900. (AI, 22-29, BI, 20-26).

Skj poems:
1. Glymdrápa
2. Haraldskvæði (Hrafnsmál)
3. Lausavísa

Little is known about the Norwegian Þorbjǫrn hornklofi ‘Horn-cleaver (?)’. Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 273) names him as a poet of Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ (r. c. 860-c. 932). Judging from Fsk (ÍF 29, 59), he seems to have spent his whole life at the court of this king. Þorbjǫrn is the composer of two poems about Haraldr, Glymdrápa (Þhorn Gldr) and Haraldskvæði (Þhorn Harkv). Skálda saga, an anecdote about skalds preserved in Hb, and hardly likely to be historical, depicts him as one of three skalds, the other two being Auðunn illskælda ‘Bad-poet’ and Ǫlvir hnúfa ‘Snub-nose (?)’, each of whom attempts a romantic encounter with the same rich widow and then bemoans his failure in a lausavísa (see Auðunn Lv 2, Þhorn Lv, Ǫlv Lv 2). The three skalds are also named in Egils saga (ÍF 2, 19) as Haraldr’s favourites. They occupy places of honour in his hall, with Þorbjǫrn between the other two.

In the prose sources Þorbjǫrn is predominantly referred to only by his nickname Hornklofi. To date there is no satisfying explanation of this word. It is attested in the Þulur as a raven-heiti (see Þul Hrafns 1/5III and Note), but it does not occur in that sense in the surviving body of skaldic poetry. Scholars have claimed that the nickname refers to Þorbjǫrn’s device, in Þhorn Harkv, of having a raven speak in his stead (SnE 1848-87, III, 408; ÍF 26, 101 n. 1). Fidjestøl (1991, 126) is, however, justified in doubting this interpretation. An alternative possibility would be to link the nickname to Egill Hfl 16/6-7V (Eg 49): en jǫfurr heldr lǫndum hornklofi ‘and the ruler holds his lands by a hornklof’. But hornklofi here must be the dative of neuter hornklof, whereas Þorbjǫrn’s nickname is a masculine n-stem, and unfortunately the meaning of this passage is obscure, though hornklof seems to be some kind of tool.

my abbr.

Glymdrápa — Þhorn GldrI

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þorbjǫrn hornklofi, Glymdrápa’ 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. 73.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 

for reference only:  4x 

Skj: Þórbjǫrn hornklofi: 1. Glymdrápa (AI, 22-4, BI, 20-1); stanzas (if different): 3, 4/1-4 | 4/5-8

in texts: Flat, Fsk, HarHárf, HHárf, Hkr, LaufE, ÓT, Skm, SnE

SkP info: I, 73

notes: was group B, but don't know why.

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The nine (complete or incomplete) stanzas of Glymdrápa ‘Clangour-drápa’ (Þhorn Gldr), the earliest known skaldic praise-poem in regular dróttkvætt, illustrate events in the life of Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ Hálfdanarson (r. c. 860-c. 932; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume). The poem’s title, attested in Hkr (ÍF 26, 101), alludes either to its frequent references to the sounds of battle (LH I, 424-5; Paasche 1957, 185), or to its use of additional rhyme to enhance the resonance of some stanzas (Paasche loc. cit.; Kreutzer 1977, 61), or to both features (Fidjestøl 1982, 221; Naumann 1998, 239). It is striking that the poem’s battle-kennings and metaphors primarily convey the acoustic effect of battle. Stanza 1 alone contains three battle-kennings whose base-words denote noise of some kind, and further terms for noise are gnýr (st. 2/2), hlymr (st. 2/4), dynr (sts 4/4, 5/4) and rymr (st. 7/2). The verbs gjalla (st. 5/7) and glymja, both ‘resound’ (st. 7/2), and the noun sǫngr ‘song’ (st. 7/7) also emphasise the din of war, and in st. 5/1 it is said that arrows ‘roared’ (gnúðu). Stanza 4 interweaves two metaphors playing on the conceit of battle as a conversation of weapons (see Note to st. 4 [All]).

Only seven full stanzas and two half-stanzas of Gldr are preserved. The narrative context of the poem differs in each of the prose works, as does the way the individual helmingar are combined. Hkr transmits almost all the stanzas of Gldr, associating them with a series of different events, all but the last of which precede the climactic battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, c. 885-c. 890): (1) the fight against the Orkndœlir (sts 1 and 2); (2) the battle at Sólskel (Solskjel) (st. 3/5-8 and st. 4, a single helmingr, as one stanza); (3) the battle against Arnviðr and Sǫlvi (st. 5); (4) the campaign in the Götaälv (sts 6 and 7); (5) the voyage to the British Isles (st. 8). ÓT cites only st. 8, likewise in the context of a military expedition to the British Isles. Fsk contains only sts 3, 4 and 5, and it cites these in the context of the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr. Flat (HarHárf) gives an unusual combination of stanzas, namely sts 3; 9 + 5/1-4; 5/5-8 + 4/1-4, and places these in the context of a victory by Haraldr over the forces of Mœrr (Møre) and Raumsdalr (Romsdalen). SnE (Skm) contains sts 2/5-8, 3/1-4 and 5/1-4 (on LaufE see below).

Gldr is missing both its introduction and its conclusion. Some scholars have considered it possible that st. 9, with its general praise of the king, was the poem’s stef ‘refrain’ (see Note to st. 9 [All]). The other eight stanzas depict battles, albeit with few details; it is presumably for this reason that the sequence of the stanzas varies from one prose work to another. The ordering in the present edition is essentially that of Hkr, the only text to contain virtually all of sts 1-8. Hkr lacks st. 3/1-4, however, and for sts 3-4 the Fsk ordering is preferred (see Note to st. 3 [All]).

When the prose contexts are set aside, it is difficult to discern from the few surviving stanzas whether the poem is about a single campaign or about several independent battles. Whereas Fidjestøl (1982, 217; cf. Reichardt 1928, 255-6) thinks it possible to read the poem as depicting a continuous campaign, Holtsmark (1927, 13-53) assumes it depicts separate events from Haraldr’s reign. She demonstrates that pairs of stanzas from the poem, analogous in form and content, each describe an historical event (assuming that the configuration in Hkr is correct). Thus sts 1-2 are about Haraldr’s campaign against thieves and bandits on land and along the coast, and sts 4-5 may deal with a conflict between Haraldr and kings from Mœrr (Møre). In sts 6-7 there follows a warlike expedition sunnan haf ‘south across the sea’. It is unclear whether the designation of Haraldr as andskoti Gauta ‘adversary of the Gautar’ in st. 7/6 supports the inference that he invaded Gautland (Götaland), because such a circumlocution might have been used independently of the immediate context (see Notes to sts 6/2, 7/6). The same applies to events being localised to Scotland on the basis of the kenning þverrir Skota ‘destroyer of the Scots’ in st. 8/6. Even Fidjestøl (1982, 217), though he assumes a continuous campaign, must admit a historisk sprang ‘historical leap’ between sts 7 and 8. This supports the argument that the poem depicts separate events.

Gldr cannot be dated with certainty, though it was probably composed during Haraldr hárfagri’s lifetime, since he is addressed directly in st. 9. The fact that part of the poem concerns a military expedition to the British Isles has led many scholars to date it after Haraldr had established his pre-eminence in Norway at the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (ÍF 26, 120-1), thought to have occurred either in the period c. 870-5 or c. 885-90. Most scholars therefore believe that the composition dates to c. 890 (LH I, 426; de Vries 1964-7, I, 147; Naumann 1998, 238).

Despite its early date Gldr satisfies all the demands for the arrangement of the hendingar in fully developed dróttkvætt metre. Moreover it displays an additional use of internal rhyme (Kuhn 1983, 282). The skothending of an odd line is frequently connected to the aðalhending of the following even line. This creates a special rhyme scheme, most often with repetition of the last word of the skothending (dunhent), e.g. in st. 6/1-2 Grennir : gunni | gunnmôs : sunnan (likewise in st. 8/1-2 and st. 8/3-4; or without repetition of the last word in st. 6/5-6 and st. 5/7-8). In other cases the hending continues onto a word in the next line, but this word is not part of that line’s hending scheme: st. 1/1-2: heiði : réð | hjaldrskíðs : galdra; st. 3/1-2: hrjóðr : tíðar | harðráðr : bǫrðum. In st. 5/3-4 three different hendingar are interwoven: rauð fnýsti ben blóði | bryngǫgl í dyn Skǫglar. Here a triple hending (ben | bryn : dyn) is inserted in among the normal hendingar (rauð : blóði | gǫgl : Skǫglar). A further characteristic of Gldr, noted by Reichardt (1928, 224-7) and Kuhn (1969b, 67-9), is that Þorbjǫrn consistently creates a coherent unit of the two helmingar by subordinating the second helmingr syntactically to the first, with l. 5, where present, beginning with áðr ‘before’, or þás ‘when’.

The mss used in the present edition of Gldr are: the Hkr mss , F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ (for sts 1-2, 3/5-8, 4-8); the Fsk mss FskBˣ, FskAˣ (for sts 3-5); Flat (for sts 3-5 and 9); the ÓT mss 61 (for st. 8/1-4), 54, Bb (for st. 8); the SnE mss R, , W, U, A, C (for sts 2/5-8, 3/1-4, 5/1-4 or subsets of these); and 761aˣ, which is here independent from the other mss (see ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume). Stanza 5/1-4 is also included in LaufE (1979, 382-3) but the text, being copied from W, is not of independent value and is not used in this edition. The mss selected as main mss are for sts 1-2, 3/5-8 and 4-8; R for st. 3/1-4, since Hkr only contains ll. 5-8 of st. 3; and Flat (HarHárf) for st. 9, since it is the unique source.

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