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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;

III. 1. Øxarflokkr (Øxfl) - 10

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.

Øxarflokkr (‘Flokkr about an Axe’) — ESk ØxflIII

Kari Ellen Gade 2017, ‘ Einarr Skúlason, Øxarflokkr’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 140. <> (accessed 23 May 2022)

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Skj: Einarr Skúlason: 11. Øxarflokkr(?) (AI, 477-9, BI, 449-51); stanzas (if different): 11

in texts: LaufE, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 140

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The title ØxarflokkrFlokkr about an Axe’ (ESk Øxfl) was first coined by Jón Sigurðsson (SnE 1848-87, III, 364-5) to designate a hypothetical poem that comprised a series of stanzas and helmingar attributed to Einarr Skúlason in SnE (for the attributions to Einarr, see Notes to the individual stanzas). The theme common to these stanzas is the gift of an axe or a sword (see below) presented to the poet by an anonymous patron. Finnur Jónsson (LH 1894-1901, II, 70) expressed doubts as to whether all these fragments originally belonged to one single poem, but he retained the name (marked with a query) and the grouping of stanzas in his edition, although he excluded one stanza included by Jón Sigurðsson (see ESk Frag 1, below; see also Fidjestøl 1982, 156). For the sake of convenience the same principle has been adopted in the present edition, but it must be emphasised that the existence of this poem is at best dubious.

Throughout the stanzas, Einarr praises weapons he has received as gifts, but in many of the stanzas it is not clear whether the weapon, which in most cases is denoted by a kenning, is an axe or a sword (see the discussion in Meissner 149 and Notes to the individual stanzas below). An axe is explicitly mentioned in st. 6/5, and in st. 10 the weapon-kenning Gríðr fjǫrnis ‘the Gríðr <troll-woman> of the helmet’ is a conventional kenning for ‘axe’. In sts 1-3 and 7 the kennings can refer either to axes or to swords, and in st. 9 both weapon-kennings are given in a section of Skm (and LaufE) that enumerates kennings for ‘sword’. Hence it looks as though Einarr is praising the gift of more than one weapon in these stanzas. It is clear that most of the weapons were precious commodities inlaid with gold and silver – in one instance (st. 10) Einarr mentions that dragons or serpents were engraved on the blade of the axe (for inlaid axes, swords and spears, see Falk 1914b, 22-6, 31-3, 88-9, 108, 118-19). He draws on Old Norse myth and legend to describe the gold decorations on the weapons, such as the goddess Freyja weeping tears of gold (sts 1-3, 9) and the giantesses Fenja and Menja grinding gold (sts 3, 6), and he also uses a series of ofljóst ‘too transparent’ constructions to refer to the hnoss ‘treasure’ he has received (sts 3-5), by alluding to Hnoss, Freyja’s daughter. The word order in these stanzas is unusually convoluted and uncharacteristic of Einarr’s poetry, and the stanzas contain many inverted kennings as well as examples of tmesis.

All stanzas are recorded in Skm (SnE). Mss R and contain all stanzas, W has sts 1-4, 7-10, U sts 2, 4-5, 7-10, A sts 2, 7-10, B sts 7-8, C sts 2, 7-9, and l. 8 of st. 3 and sts 6-10 are also found in LaufE (mss 2368ˣ, 743ˣ). Stanzas 3/8, 6-7 and 8/5-8 were copied in RE 1665(Ff) from a LaufE ms., but that redaction has no independent value and has not been considered in the present edition. Ms. R is the main ms., except for st. 8, where R is damaged and W is the main ms.

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