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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Einarr Skúlason (ESk)

12th century; volume 2; ed. Kari Ellen Gade;

VII. Geisli (Geisl) - 71

Skj info: Einarr Skúlason, Islandsk skjald, 12. årh. (AI, 455-85, BI, 423-57).

Skj poems:
1. Sigurðardrápa
2. Haraldsdrápa I
3. Haraldsdrápa II
4. Haraldssonakvæði(?)
5. Sigurðardrápa
6. Geisli
7. Runhenda
8. Eysteinsdrápa
9. Ingadrápa
10. Elfarvísur
11. Lausavísur
11. Lausavísur
11. Øxarflokkr(?)
12. Ubestemmelige vers, tilhørende forskellige fyrstedigte eller lausavísur

We know very little about the life of Einarr Skúlason (ESk). He is called prestr ‘priest’ and is mentioned in a catalogue (c. 1220) of priests of noble birth who were alive in western Iceland in 1143 (Stu 1878, II, 502). It is likely that he came from Borg, belonged to the Mýrar family and was a direct descendant of Þorsteinn Egilsson and a brother of Snorri Sturluson’s maternal grandfather (LH 1894-1901, II, 62-3; ÍF 3, 51 n. 3). He was probably born c. 1090. In 1153, he recited the poem Geisli ‘Light-beam’ (ESk GeislVII) in Kristkirken in Trondheim. He was marshal (stallari) at King Eysteinn Magnússon’s court, and he composed poetry in praise of the Norw. kings Sigurðr jórsalafari ‘Jerusalem-farer’ and Eysteinn Magnússon, Haraldr gilli(-kristr) ‘Servant (of Christ)’, Magnús inn blindi ‘the Blind’ Sigurðarson, Haraldr gilli’s sons, Ingi, Sigurðr munnr ‘Mouth’, and Eysteinn, and about the Norw. chieftain Grégóríus Dagsson (see SnE 1848-87, III, 254-5, 263-4, 269, 276-7, 286). According to Skáldatal, he also honoured the Norw. magnate Eindriði ungi ‘the Young’ Jónsson as well as Sørkvir Kolsson and Jón jarl Sørkvisson of Sweden and King Sveinn Eiríksson of Denmark (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 258, 260, 268-9, 272, 283, 286). About the latter he recited a poem for which he received no reward (see ESk Lv 3; ÍF 35, 275). The extant portion of his poetic oeuvre consists of the following poems (excluding lvv.): Sigurðardrápa I (Sigdr I, five extant sts about Sigurðr jórsalafari); Haraldsdrápa I (Hardr I, two extant sts about Haraldr gilli); Haraldsdrápa II (Hardr II, five extant sts about Haraldr gilli); Haraldssonakvæði (Harsonkv, two extant sts about the sons of Haraldr gilli); Sigurðardrápa II (Sigdr II, one extant st. about Sigurðr munnr Haraldsson); Runhenda (Run, ten extant sts about Eysteinn Haraldsson); Eysteinsdrápa (Eystdr, two extant sts about Eysteinn Haraldsson); Ingadrápa (Ingdr, four extant sts about Ingi Haraldsson); Elfarvísur (Elfv, two extant sts about Grégóríus Dagsson); Geisli (GeislVII, seventy-one sts about S. Óláfr); Øxarflokkr (ØxflIII, ten extant sts about the gift of an axe).

It must be emphasised that, although the poetry included in the royal panegyrics below clearly belongs to poems of that genre, with two exceptions (Hardr II and Elfv), all the names of the poems are modern constructs (notably by Jón Sigurðsson and Finnur Jónsson). That also holds true for the assignment of sts to the individual poems. In some cases, sts were assigned to a particular poem for metrical reasons (so Run), in other cases because of the content or the named recipients of the praise. For the sake of convenience, the names of the poems and the sts assigned to them as found in Skj have been retained in the present edn. In addition to the royal encomia, a number of fragments and lvv. attributed to Einarr are preserved in SnE, TGT and LaufE (see ESk Frag 1-18III; ESk Lv 7-15III). These have been edited separately in SkP III. Six lvv. are transmitted in the kings’ sagas and edited below.

Geisli (‘Light beam’) — ESk GeislVII

Martin Chase 2007, ‘ Einarr Skúlason, Geisli’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 5-65. <> (accessed 7 July 2022)

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Skj: Einarr Skúlason: 6. Geisli, 1153 (AI, 459-73, BI, 427-45)

in texts: Flat, Gramm, H-Hr, Hkr, LaufE, Msona, ÓH, Skm, SnE, SnEW, TGT

SkP info: VII, 5-65

notes: MC text corrected and formatted by MCR and KG. Corrected text entered into db with further corrections by TW. Second round of corrections by MCR entered by TW. Ms readings in st. 37 checked by TW - Tóm checked. More corrections finished 3/4/7. Corrections of corrections entered 18/4/07 and sent to MC.

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Einarr Skúlason’s Geisli ‘Light beam’ (ESk Geisl) was almost certainly composed in 1153. Einarr had been associated with Haraldr gilli, who ruled Norway from 1130-6, and after Haraldr’s death he composed poetry for his sons Eysteinn, Sigurðr and Ingi, who reigned jointly for a time. Einarr was particularly associated with Eysteinn, who made him his stallari or marshall. Internal evidence (sts 8 and 71) indicates that Eysteinn commissioned Geisl, and that it was performed in the Trondheim cathedral, with the three kings Eysteinn, Sigurðr and Ingi, as well as Archbishop Jón Birgisson, among the assembled crowd (sts 8-11). A famous passage in Mork (Mork 1932, 446) describes the event:

Einarr Skúlason was in the company of the brothers Sigurðr and Eysteinn, and King Eysteinn was a great friend of his. Eysteinn asked him to compose a poem in honor of Saint Óláfr, and he did so. He presented it north in Þrándheimr [Trondheim] in the very confines of Christ Church, and it was accompanied by great miracles. A sweet fragrance rose in the church, and people say that there were intimations from the king himself that he thought well of the poem (Andersson and Gade 2000, 393).

The poem refers to the see of Trondheim as an archbishopric (st. 65), which means that it was composed after the elevation of the see in the spring of 1153, and cannot have been composed later than the summer of 1155, when Ingi killed Sigurðr. The brothers were already feuding in 1154, which makes 1153 the likely date of composition. Geisl may have been commissioned for performance on the feast of S. Óláfr, 29 July, in that year. The establishment of an archbishopric in Norway meant more power for the church and less for the king. It also meant closer ties with Rome: Cardinal Nicholas Breakspear, the future Pope Adrian IV, travelled from Rome to Trondheim to consecrate Jón Birgisson as the first archbishop.

Geisl is the earliest skaldic drápa to have survived intact. It comprises an introductory section (sts 1-17), a central section in which the refrain (stef) appears, called the stefjabálkr (sts 18-45), and the conclusion or slœmr (sts 46-71). For an extended discussion of the poem’s structure and metrics, see Chase 2005, 16-20.

Einarr Skúlason artfully demonstrates his facility with the skaldic techniques later codified by Snorri Sturluson, but he also shows his knowledge of the Lat. religious poetry of Western Europe. He celebrates the military exploits of Óláfr the Viking much as earlier skalds praised earlier kings, and at the same time celebrates the holiness of Óláfr the saint using all the conventions of Lat. hagiography. For a detailed discussion of these and the miracles attributed to Óláfr in Geisl and various prose sources, see Chase 2005, 21-44. Geisl can be viewed both as a nationalistic work celebrating the great king who unified and brought Christianity to Norway, and as a celebration of the universal church, where national boundaries fade into the background and Óláfr the saint becomes another Christ (the light beam of the Sun of Righteousness), the ruler and protector of all believers. The earliest mentions of the poem refer to it as Óláfs drápa (Mork 1932, 446; Hkr, ÍF 28, 271), but the name Geisli is at least as old as Flateyjarbók, in which the text is preceded by the rubric Geisli er Einarr Skulason quad vm Olaf HaraldssonGeisli which Einarr Skúlason composed about Óláfr Haraldsson’.

Only one medieval ms., Bergsbók, Holm perg 1 fol (Bb), contains a complete text of Geisl, but Flateyjarbók, GKS 1005 fol (Flat), contains all but sts 31-3, which are here edited from Bb. Flat has been chosen as the base text for this edn, though readings are frequently taken from Bb, when Bb’s readings are clearly superior or Flat’s cannot be satisfactorily construed. While neither ms. possesses a clear advantage, the arrangement of sts in Flat is judged to be better than in Bb. Both mss are highly corrupt, but the language and orthography of Flat are more regular. Both date from the late C14th and are thus considerably later than Geisl itself. In addition to the texts in Flat and Bb, individual sts are quoted in three important works: SnE, Hkr and the saga of S. Óláfr known as The Great Saga (ÓH). The five primary mss of SnE (Codex Regius, GKS 2365 4° [R]; Codex Trajectinus, Traj 1374ˣ []; Codex Wormianus, AM 242 fol [W]; Codex Upsaliensis, DG 11 [U]; AM 748 I b 4° [A]), contain portions of sts 1 (in TGT: A, W), 16 (R, , W, U, A) and 59 (W). St. 37 appears in various versions of Óláfs saga helga in Flat; Bb; AM 63 folˣ (); Eirspennill, AM 47 fol (E); AM 39 fol (39); AM 73 aˣ (73aˣ); Tómasskinna, GKS 1008 fol (Tóm); Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2); Holm perg 4 4° (Holm4). Hulda, AM 66 fol (H), contains sts 28 and 30 in its version of Óláfs saga helga, and the related ms. Hrokkinskinna, GKS 1010 fol (Hr), contains sts 28, 29 and 30. Geisl is preserved in eleven C17th and C18th mss: AM 1009 4°ˣ; AM 72 folˣ; Thott 1498 4°ˣ; Oslo UB 262 folˣ; Trondheim DKNVSB 3 4°ˣ; Bodl Boreal 102ˣ; Lbs 444 4°ˣ; JS 260 4°ˣ; JS 406 4°; Edinburgh Adv 21 2 ; Edinburgh Adv 21 8 14ˣ. All these mss are transcripts of Flat and have not been used in this edn.

A full listing and description of previous eds of Geisl can be consulted in Chase 2005, 5-8. In the present edn, reference is made to the eds of Finnur Jónsson (Skj A and B) and Kock (Skald and NN), Cederschiöld 1873 and Chase 2005.

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