2.1: Bjarkamál in fornu (‘The (Old) Speeches of Bjarki’)
Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘ Anonymous, Bjarkamál in fornu’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 495. <https://skaldic.org/m.php?p=text&i=1006> (accessed 6 July 2022)
Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [X]: II. A. Bjarkamál en fornu (AI, 180-1, BI, 170-1)
in texts: Fbr, Flat, Hkr, LaufE, LaufE, ÓH, ÓHHkr, Skm, SnE
SkP info: III, 495
Edited here are seven stanzas, or parts of stanzas, said in various vernacular sources to be quoted from Bjarkamál ‘The Speeches of Bjarki’ or Bjarkamál in fornu ‘The Old Speeches of Bjarki’ (Anon Bjark). The existence of two titles may suggest that both an older and a more recent version of Bjark were known. In the sources that preserve sts 1 and 2, the prose texts state that the men who heard the poem recited by the skald Þormóðr (see below) called it Húskarlahvǫt ‘The Incitement of the Housecarls’, a title which may be reflected in Saxo’s phrase exhortationum series ‘set of admonitory speeches’ (see below).
The title Bjarkamál implies that the poem is spoken by one Bjarki, who is readily identified as Biarco in extensive prose narratives in Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum Book II together with a long Latin poem in hexameters (Saxo 2015, I, ii. 7. 4-28, pp. 122-41) and as Bǫðvarr bjarki in Hrólfs saga kraka, and in other works. The name Bjarki means ‘Little Bear’ (AEW: Bjarki). Before and during the last battle of King Rolvo (ON Hrólfr kraki ‘Pole-ladder’) and his champions, according to Saxo, Biarco exchanges speeches with another of the king’s warriors, Hialto (ON Hjalti). Saxo is unusually explicit in his declaration that he had ‘particularly composed this set of admonitory speeches in metre because the same thoughts and arguments, arranged within the compass of a Danish poem, are frequently recited from memory by many who are conversant with ancient deeds’ (Hanc maxime exhortationum seriem idcirco metrica ratione compegerim, quod earundem sententiarum intellectus Danici cuiusdam carminis compendio digestus a compluribus antiquitatis peritis memoriter usurpatur, Saxo 2015, I, ii. 8. 1, pp. 140-1). This statement implies that Saxo was aware that a vernacular poem, compendio digestus ‘told in short form’, existed in his day, and he is likely to have based his much longer Latin version upon it. Olrik (1903-10, I, 28-114; trans. Hollander 1919, 66-216) reconstructed this poem in Modern Danish, assuming an Old Danish original, but it is now recognised that Saxo’s composition is very much his own, firmly in the classical and medieval Latin epic tradition, not merely in style but also to some extent in subject-matter (Friis-Jensen 1987, 64-101). It is likely enough that a lost Bjark also lies distantly behind the prose of the last part of Hrólf, but no stanzas are quoted there.
Stanzas 1 and 2 are preserved in mss of ÓHHkr (Óláfs saga hins helga in Heimskringla), ÓH (Óláfs saga helga in sérstaka) and Fóstbrœðra saga (Fbr). They are there said to have been the beginning (upphaf) of Bjarkamál in fornu, which the skald Þormóðr Kolbrúnarskáld ‘Kolbrún’s Poet’ Bersason (Þorm) recited, at the urging of King Óláfr Haraldsson, on the morning before the king’s last battle at Stiklestad (Stiklastaðir) in 1030, in order to rouse the household troops from their beds. Þormóðr’s choice (whether factually true or only imaginatively so) was appropriate to the situation he and his companions found themselves in, and anticipated Óláfr’s and his own deaths in the battle because, both in the legendary Hrólf and in Saxo, Bjark was the prelude to Hrólfr kraki’s last battle, in which he and all his champions died.
All the stanzas are composed in málaháttr ‘speeches’ form’, a metre characterised by five rather than four metrical positions (see further General Introduction, § 4.1.1 in SkP I). Most skaldic poems composed in this metre are from the tenth century (cf. Eyv HákI and Anon EirmI), which strengthens the possibility that Bjarkamál in fornu may also date from this period. Von See (1976a; 1981b) has argued against Bjark being an early poem; he considers even sts 1 and 2 to be twelfth-century compositions. The fragmentary sts 3 and 7 are recorded in versions of Laufás Edda (LaufE) (LaufE 1979), a work that includes sts 4, 5 and 6. All of the stanzas found in LaufE are also recorded in RE 1665 as follows: st. 3 (RE 1665(Ff)), sts 4-6 (RE 1665(Ff2)), st. 7 (RE 1665(Ee2)). They were clearly copied from a LaufE ms., and thus RE 1665 has no independent value. Stanzas 4, 5 and 6 are found in mss of SnE in the section of Skm exemplifying kennings for gold, as well as in versions of LaufE. It is unlikely, on grounds of metre and style as well as content (see below), that sts 4-6 formed part of Bjarkamál in fornu, unless the older poem was substantially reworked to suit the tastes of audiences from the second half of the twelfth century onwards. On the other hand, sts 4-6 were known to Snorri Sturluson, so cannot be younger than c. 1225. They are different, both in style and metre, from sts 1-3 and 7, in that they are made up mostly of stylised málaháttr Type D*-lines (i.e. Haðarlag ‘Hǫðr’s metre’, but without internal rhyme), and are in a third person narrative style, with a series of elaborate gold-kennings expressing the munificence of Hrólfr kraki. Stanzas 3 and 7 both use a third person narrative style and each contains one somewhat unusual kenning (see Notes below).
The following mss are used in this edition: for sts 1-2, the Hkr ms. AM 36 folˣ (Kˣ) and the ÓH mss Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2), AM 38 folˣ (J2ˣ), AM 73 a fol (Bæb), AM 68 fol (68), Holm perg 4 4° (Holm4), AM 61 fol (61), AM 325 V 4° (325V), AM 325 VII 4° (325VII), Holm perg 1 fol (Bb), GKS 1005 fol (Flat), and GKS 1008 fol (Tóm), and the Fbr ms. AM 141 folˣ (141ˣ); for sts 3 and 7, the LaufE mss papp10ˣ, 2368ˣ and 743ˣ; for sts 4, 5 and 6, the SnE mss R, Tˣ, W, U, A, B (and 744ˣ) and C, as well as the LaufE mss papp10ˣ, 2368ˣ and 743ˣ. For sts 1-2, Kˣ is the main ms., for sts 3 and 7, papp10ˣ, and for sts 4-6, R.