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Runic Dictionary

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Einarr skálaglamm Helgason (Eskál)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Edith Marold;

III. Haraldsdrápa blátannar (Hardr) - 2

Little is certain about the life of Einarr skálaglamm ‘Tinkle-scales’ Helgason (Eskál), except that he came from a noble family from western Iceland. They were descendants of Bjǫrn austrœni ‘the Easterner’, i.e. ‘the Norwegian’, son of Ketill flatnefr ‘Flat-nose’. According to Ldn (ÍF 1, 123), Einarr’s mother was Niðbjǫrg, daughter of an Irish king. Einarr’s brother Ósvífr was the father of Guðrún Ósvífsdóttir, the heroine of Laxdœla saga. A few anecdotes link Einarr to Egill Skallagrímsson. Egils saga (Eg, ÍF 2, 268-73) tells of Einarr visiting Egill and the two talking at length about poetry. The meeting led to a long friendship, which is reflected in similarities between the two skalds’ poetry (de Vries 1964-7, I, 176). A valuable shield given to Egill by Einarr inspired Egill to compose a Skjaldardrápa or shield poem honouring the gift, of which only the first stanza has survived (Egill SkjalddrV).

Einarr must have lived c. 940-c. 990. He presumably spent much of his life at the court of Hákon jarl Sigurðarson in Norway, for whom he composed Vellekla (Eskál Vell) and another poem, Hákonardrápa (Eskál Hákdr). Two stanzas (Eskál HardrIII) that possibly stem from one or more Haraldsdrápur in honour of Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ Gormsson indicate that he might have spent time at the Danish court, perhaps as a companion of Hákon jarl. Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266, 280) mentions Einarr only as one of Hákon jarl’s skalds. Besides these poems, three lausavísur are preserved in Jvs, Fsk, Flat and Eg. The first two are part of a typical skald anecdote about court poetry and its reward, and are preserved in versions that differ sufficiently for them to be printed in both SkP I (Eskál Lv 1a and Lv 2a) and SkP V (Eskál Lv 1bV (Eg 124) and Lv 2bV (Eg 125)). The third (Eskál Lv 3) concerns the death of Þorleifr skúma Þorkelsson (Þskúm), an Icelandic retainer of Hákon jarl, at the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen, c. 985).

According to Jvs (1969, 178-9), Einarr’s nickname skálaglamm ‘Tinkle-scales’ refers to a pair of precious and magically resounding scales (OIcel. skálar/skálir) with which Hákon jarl rewarded him for Vell (see Introduction to Eskál Lv 1-3). This explanation (apparently accepted in Finnur Jónsson 1907, 284) may, however, be a later etymological invention, and skálaglamm could instead derive from OIcel. skáli ‘hall, free-standing house’ either as part of a sky-, breast- or shield-kenning (Lie 1975, 643), or more likely as a ‘loud sound (glamm) in the hall’, in reference to his art of recitation. Jvs (1969, 178) also tells that Einarr earlier had the nickname Skjaldmeyjar-Einarr ‘Einarr of the shield-maiden’. Skjaldmeyjar are armed women who took part in battles (cf. Akv 16), but nothing is known about how Einarr got this nickname. According to Ldn and Jvs, Einarr drowned in Breiðafjörður on a voyage home (Ldn, ÍF 1, 123; Jvs 1969, 205); they add a legend according to which his scales (Jvs), or his shield and his coat (Ldn), wash ashore, inspiring the names of the islands Skáleyjar, Skjaldey and Feldarhólmr.

Haraldsdrápa blátannar (‘Drápa about Haraldr blátǫnn’) — Eskál HardrIII

R. D. Fulk 2017, ‘ Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Haraldsdrápa blátannar’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 137. <> (accessed 27 June 2022)

stanzas:  1   2 

Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm: 2. Et digt om Harald blåtand(?), o. 980 (AI, 122, BI, 116-117)

in texts: LaufE, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 137

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The mention of Lund in st. 1/1 of Haralds drápa blátannarDrápa about Haraldr blátǫnn’ (Eskál Hardr) indicates that this poem must be about a Danish king, as also does the reference to the family of Haraldr hilditǫnn ‘War-tooth’ (st. 2/1-4). The king intended is thus perhaps Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ Gormsson, who died in the late 980s and was thus a contemporary of Einarr skálaglamm (see Fidjestøl 1982, 96). That these two helmingar do in fact belong to a single composition cannot be proved, but they are both panegyric in nature, and they both allude to a Danish monarch, so that the inference is not improbable. The title is, thus, of course, modern rather than medieval. Both helmingar are found only in Skm (SnE), where they are widely separated from each other, since they illustrate different types of kennings, but in both instances they are plainly attributed to Einarr skálaglamm. Stanza 1 is transmitted in mss R, , W, U, A, B (and 744ˣ) and C and st. 2 in R, , W and U. As is usual in regard to poetry cited in Skm, R seems the most reliable ms. in respect to st. 1, but R is less reliable in regard to st. 2, for which no ms. is impeccable, though U seems the least deficient. Stanza 1 (but not st. 2) is given in the same context in the Y redaction of LaufE (LaufE 1979, 347; mss 2368ˣ(92), 743ˣ(72v)), which has no independent value.
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