Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þórarinn loftunga (Þloft)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Matthew Townend;

3. Glælognskviða (Glækv) - 10

Skj info: Þórarinn loftunga, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 322-7, BI, 298-301).

Skj poems:
1. Hǫfuðlausn
2. Tøgdrápa
3. Glælognskviða

Few biographical facts are known about Þórarinn loftunga ‘Praise-tongue’ (Þloft). In introducing Þórarinn’s service to King Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great), Snorri Sturluson (ÍF 27, 307; cf. ÓH 1941, I, 473) records in general terms that he was an Icelander and a great poet (skáld mikit) who had spent a great deal of time with kings and other chieftains. Knýtl (ÍF 35, 124) gives a similar portrait, and adds that Þórarinn was gamall ‘old’ when he first came to Knútr. However, all of Þórarinn’s extant poetry derives from his service to Knútr and his son Sveinn, and these are the only monarchs for whom Þórarinn is recorded as a poet in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267). Þorm Lv 10/1-2 also refers to Knútr rewarding Þórarinn with gold over a long period (for the anecdote in which it is quoted see ÓHLeg 1982, 124-8; ÓH 1941, II, 799-804), and his pre-Knútr career must remain hypothetical. Parts of three poems are preserved: Hǫfuðlausn (Hfl) and Tøgdrápa (Tøgdr) for Knútr, and Glælognskviða (Glækv) for Sveinn, probably composed in this order, and between c. 1027 and 1034; for circumstances of composition and preservation see individual Introductions below. The evidence of the poems suggests that Þórarinn entered Knútr’s service in either England or Denmark, accompanied him on his journey to Norway in 1028, and after 1030 remained at Sveinn’s court in Norway at least until c. 1032. For previous discussions of Þórarinn’s career see LH I, 601-3, Malcolm (1993), and Townend (2005, 256-7).

Glælognskviða — Þloft GlækvI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þórarinn loftunga, Glælognskviða’ 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. 863.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9 

for reference only:  10x 

Skj: Þórarinn loftunga: 3. Glælognskviða, 1032 (AI, 324-7, BI, 300-1)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, ÓH, ÓHHkr

SkP info: I, 863

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Þórarinn loftunga’s Glælognskviða ‘Sea-Calm kviða’ (Þloft Glækv) is an important poem, representing a vital point in the evolution of the cult of Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr, r. c. 1015-30; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume) and the development of skaldic poetry on Christian subjects (see Lange 1958a, 113-20). Its considerable fame is due to its status as the first text to proclaim Óláfr as a saint, the rex perpetuus Norvegiae ‘eternal king of Norway’.

The poem as it survives is preserved in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga in both the Separate version (ÓH) and Hkr version (ÓHHkr; jointly designated ÓH-Hkr below), where st. 1 is quoted and then a short while later sts 2-9 as an uninterrupted block; st. 1 is also preserved in Fsk. It is likely that other stanzas are now missing, possibly at the beginning or end of the poem, and/or between sts 1 and 2.

In terms of structure, the poem begins with an account of Danes travelling to Norway (st. 1) and Sveinn Knútsson’s enthronement in Trøndelag (st. 2), proceeds to a celebration of Óláfr’s sanctity and miraculous powers (sts 3-8), and concludes with a plain-speaking address to Sveinn within an ‘advice to princes’ tradition (st. 9). The poem’s historical context can be readily established. Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great) annexed Norway in 1028, driving out Óláfr Haraldsson, and appointed as regent Hákon jarl Eiríksson. Hákon died in 1030 (or 1029), and Óláfr, returning in an attempt to regain the throne, was killed in battle at Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad) on 29 July 1030; the rule of Norway was then entrusted to Knútr’s son Sveinn and his English mother Álfífa (Ælfgifu of Northampton). Glækv, which probably dates from c. 1032 (see Magerøy 1948, 43-4), is thus a crucial text in political as well as devotional terms, as a contemporary record of Sveinn’s rule in Norway between 1030 and 1034 (see further Townend 2005); Snorri claims that Þórarinn was himself present in Norway as an eye-witness (ÍF 27, 409).

Þórarinn is named as poet in ÓH-Hkr and in Fsk, but the poem’s title is supplied only by Snorri, being specified in the introduction to both st. 1 and sts 2-9, together with the statement that the poem was composed um Svein Álfífuson ‘about/for Sveinn son of Ælfgifu’ (ÍF 27, 399, 406). The title itself is somewhat cryptic, with a probable literal meaning of ‘Sea-Calm Poem’ (see Magerøy 1948, 38-9; Rainford 1995, 84-5). The significance of this is uncertain (see Lange 1958a, 115-20), but it could well allude to the Danes’ journey to Norway at the start of the poem, perhaps signalling a parallel to Þórarinn’s earlier Tøgdrápa (Þloft Tøgdr), which commemorated Knútr’s journey to Norway in 1028; see further Note to st. 1/3 below. Other suggestions are that the calm represents the peaceful reception of Sveinn in Norway (Magerøy loc. cit.) or the now peaceful situation in Norway (LH I, 602).

The poem’s metre is kviðuháttr, and indeed Glækv seems to show influence from an earlier kviðuháttr poem, namely Þjóðólfr ór Hvini’s Ynglingatal (Þjóð Yt; see Magerøy 1948, 53-61; Rainford 1995, 100-4). One unusual feature of poems in kviðuháttr is the frequent use of run-on syntax between stanzas (see ‘Skaldic metres’ in General Introduction above and Gade 2005), and for syntactic reasons it is at least arguable that sts 2 and 3 should be combined to make one sixteen-line stanza. The final twelve lines of the poem are a tightly integrated unit treated in this edition as a single stanza (see Note to st. 9 [All]), while st. 1, as it is preserved, has ten lines. The diction and syntax of the poem are, on the whole, very simple, though one distinctive feature is the presence of a high number of Christian loanwords (see Hellberg 1984, 32-9, whose arguments for a later date for the poem are reviewed and rejected in Haki Antonsson 2003, 145-8).

The mss used in this edition are: the Hkr mss , 39 (lacking st. 1), and E (sts 1, 9 only); the ÓH mss Holm2, 61, Flat, and Tóm, plus 325VI and 321ˣ (both lacking st. 4), 325VII (lacking st. 1), Bb (lacking st. 8), 325V (lacking sts 8 and 9/5-8), and Holm4 (sts 1, 2/1-4 only); the Fsk ms. FskAˣ (st. 1 only; FskBˣ incorporates st. 1/9-10 into a prose sentence). The ÓH fragment 325XI 2 n contains the end of st. 5 and sts 6-9, but lacks part of the text, mainly because of a large cut across the top corner of the leaf. Readings from J2ˣ are not included here since the section of text containing Glækv was copied from K, to fill a lacuna, rather than from J (see Jørgensen 2000a, 39, 232). The text of the poem in the ÓH ms. 73aˣ is used in Skj A, but it is a copy of 325V at this point (rather than of Bæb, as elsewhere) so is not an independent witness. The ms. of Hkr seems to supply the best text of Glækv and is here adopted as the main ms. For a thorough edition of the poem see Magerøy (1948).

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