Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)
9th century; volume 3; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross;
1. Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) - 12
2. Þórr’s fishing (Þórr) - 6
3. Fragments (Frag) - 6
4. An exchange of verses between Bragi and a troll-woman (Troll) - 1
IV. Lausavísur (Lv) - 2
It is not possible to be precise about either the dates of Bragi Boddason’s (Bragi) floruit or about the details of his life. Some of the latter are almost certainly legendary (e.g. the narratives associated with Bragi Lv 1abIV, VIII and Bragi Troll), while his sobriquet inn gamli ‘the Old’ places him almost in prehistory, seen from an Icelandic viewpoint. Landnámabók (Ldn, ÍF 1, 82) mentions him as being associated by marriage with the family of Arinbjǫrn hersir from Firðir (Fjordane) in Western Norway, and Egils saga (Eg, ÍF 2, 182) places him in the same context. Ldn tells that Bragi’s wife was Lopthœna, daughter of another poet, Erpr lútandi ‘the Stooping’. Bragi seems to have been active as a poet in Norway one or two generations before the settlement of Iceland, hence c. 850-70. In Skáldatal’s list of poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 251, 259, 270), Bragi is the first named skald whose works have survived, at least in part. There he is associated with three patrons: Bjǫrn at Haugi, probably a Norwegian ruler, though some sources consider him Swedish (see Jón Jóhannesson 1940), Eysteinn beli and Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’, there said to be a Danish king who himself composed poetry. Snorri Sturluson (SnE 1998, I, 72-3) associates Bragi’s poem Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) with Ragnarr loðbrók, and he may be one and the same as the Ragnarr mentioned in Rdr’s refrain and ‘the son of Sigurðr’ referred to in Rdr 2/4. If Bragi’s patron Ragnarr is to be identified with the Viking leader who led an attack on Paris in 845, supposedly died in a snake-pit at the hands of King Ælla of Northumbria, and was the father of the Ingware and Ubba that the F version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims led raids on England in the 860s and 70s (de Vries 1928a; McTurk 1991a), then their association is just possible chronologically and geographically, as Ragnarr’s connections within Scandinavia were with Norway as well as with Denmark (Smyth 1977, 17-20).
Alongside information about Bragi the poet, Icelandic traditions also mention a god or supernatural being of this name (Grí 44/7, Lok, Sigrdr 16/2, SnE 2005, 25). In the frame narrative of Skm, Snorri Sturluson represents Bragi as the god who informs a curious sea-giant Ægir about the nature of skaldic diction. The connection between Bragi the poet and Bragi the god is uncertain, but it seems likely that Bragi Boddason’s iconic status as the first skald whose poetry survived into historical times contributed to the formation of the concept of a deity closely associated with the practice of skaldic verse in a courtly context (cf. Anon EirmI, Eyv HákI). Some scholars have linked Bragi and the origin of dróttkvætt with the influence of Irish poetry and culture, but their arguments are inconclusive (cf. Turville-Petre 1971; Kuhn 1983, 272-5; Sayers 1992).
An exchange of verses between Bragi and a troll-woman —
Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Bragi inn gamli Boddason, An exchange of verses between Bragi and a troll-woman’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 63.
Skj: Bragi enn gamli: 3. Lausavísur (AI, 5, BI, 5); stanzas (if different): 1 |
in texts: Skm, SnE
SkP info: III, 63
1 in Ldn Stu and Half; 2 in SnE.
SnE records two stanzas of an exchange between the poet Bragi inn gamli ‘the Old’ and a troll-woman in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 83-4). They occur in a section detailing expressions for poetry without periphrasis (ókend setning skáldskapar). This context makes it clear that it was the second of the pair of stanzas (Bragi Troll) that was the target quotation, because it lists terms for a poet, and this is reflected by both the prose introduction (see Context) and the ms. witnesses to the verse, as only R and C (the latter in part, from l. 4) have the troll-woman’s stanza (Anon (SnE) 9), while R, Tˣ, U, A and C have Bragi’s. Nevertheless, both internal and contextual evidence indicates that the two must have formed a pair, in which Bragi’s stanza deliberately imitates the form and content of the troll-woman’s. Almqvist (1965-74, I, 28-34) has shown that this exchange is the earliest extant example of the kind of poetic duelling between malevolent supernatural beings and human poets that characterised so-called kraftskáld ‘power-skald’ in post-medieval Icelandic tradition. It is significant that such powers are attributed to the first known skald (see Lindow 2006 and cf. Bragi’s divinatory powers in Bragi Lv 1aIV and Bragi Lv 1bVIII), whether or not he was the composer of one or both of the stanzas. A similar encounter, though lacking a poetic dimension, occurs in a prose passage in the eddic HHj, in which the hero Heðinn goes home on his own out of a wood one Yule evening and encounters a troll-woman, who offers him her company (fylgð). Heðinn refuses this, and, in revenge, the troll-woman makes him (by magic presumably) vow his service to his own brother’s betrothed.
Both Bragi’s and the troll-woman’s stanzas are, appropriately to their status as travellers, in a form of tøglag ‘journey metre’. If authentic, they are likely to be the earliest attested examples of it (cf. SnE 2007, 29-30, 35, 87-8 and General Introduction to SkP §4, in SkP I for a survey of poetry in this measure). A similar, enumerative format, beginning X kalla mik, and listing a number of properties of a particular entity, occurs in Anon (FoGT) 12, and may suggest the format was traditional.