Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Einarr skálaglamm Helgason (Eskál)

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

2. Vellekla (Vell) - 37

Skj info: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, Islandsk skjald, d. o. 995. (AI, 122-132, BI, 116-125).

Skj poems:
1. Drape om Hakon jarl
2. Et digt om Harald blåtand(?)
3. Vellekla
4. Lausavísur
4. Lausavísur

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.

Vellekla (‘Lack of Gold’) — Eskál VellI

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 280.

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Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm: 3. Vellekla, o. 986 (AI, 122-31, BI, 117-24); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Gramm, HGráf, Hkr, LaufE, ÓT, ÓTC, Skm, SnE, TGT

SkP info: I, 280

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Vellekla ‘Lack of Gold’ (Eskál Vell) is an unusually long and well-preserved praise-poem for one of the most powerful rulers of tenth-century Norway, Hákon jarl Sigurðarson. Hákon belonged to the house of the Hlaðajarlar, the jarls of Hlaðir (Lade), whose power base lay in what is now Trøndelag. He was born c. 940, and ruled c. 970-c. 995; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume for a summary of his career.

Vell is not preserved complete in any ms. or group of mss. Rather, the thirty-seven stanzas are distributed among the mss of Hkr, ÓT, Fsk, SnE, LaufE and TGT (see further below).

The poem’s title Vellekla ‘Lack of Gold’ is mentioned several times in the Hkr and ÓT mss, but so far it has not been explained adequately. It might be an expression of the poet’s expectation of reward for his composition. A comment in Egils saga (ch. 78, ÍF 2, 269) seems to indicate this, reading Einarr var ǫrr maðr ok optast félítill ‘Einarr was a active man and most often short of money’. But the saga’s description might just as well have been inspired by the poem’s title. A further, less likely, possibility is that the title is part of a ruler-kenning such as ‘(reliever) of want’, as suggested by Lie (1975, 643).

The poem is not preserved as a coherent whole, but in the form of single stanzas cited mainly in the biographies of the rulers Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’ and Óláfr Tryggvason in Hkr, and in Fsk and ÓT. The introductory sts 1-5, the stanzas referring to the battle against the warriors later known as Jómsvíkingar (sts 33-4) and a few more (sts 35-7) are attested in SnE as examples of various stylistic devices. Stanzas 1-5, 11-12 and 33-6 are attributed to Einarr skálaglamm in the sources, while for sts 9-10, sts 17-20 and st. 37 the poet is named only as Einarr. For sts 9-10 and 17-20 this can be explained by the fact that the poet is named with his full name shortly before. That is not true for st. 37, which introduces the possibility that another skald named Einarr is meant, but in the absence of an obvious candidate it seems likely that the reference is to Einarr skálaglamm. Only nineteen of the thirty-seven stanzas are associated with the title Vellekla: sts 6-8, 13-16 and 21-32 (cf. CPB II, 48-9). Because Einarr skálaglamm composed another poem about Hákon jarl (Eskál Hákdr), it is possible that the stanzas cited with no reference to Vell are part of this; but since only one stanza is identified (in Fsk) as from Hákdr it may be that the prose writers intended readers to understand that other citations from Einarr were from his famous and well-preserved Vell. A particular problem is whether the stanzas dealing with the battle against the Jómsvíkingar (sts 33-4), which are preserved only in SnE, are truly part of Vell. It is notable that Hkr only cites stanzas by other skalds on this topic. Another argument against these stanzas belonging to the poem might be provided by an anecdote in Egils saga (ch. 78, ÍF 2, 270-2) and two lausavísur cited there (Eskál Lv 1b, 2bV, cf. Eskál Lv 1a, 2a), according to which Einarr is unable to persuade Hákon jarl to hear Vell except by threatening to switch his allegiance to Sigvaldi jarl, leader of the Jómsvíkingar. If this is true, the poem must have been composed before the battle with the Jómsvíkingar, and the stanzas in SnE referring to the battle might then belong to Hákdr (cf. Lie 1975, 641). According to Patzig (1930a, 59) they may also be lausavísur, but this is very unlikely. Fidjestøl (1982, 96-7) advocates treating sts 33-4 and all the stanzas not explicitly associated with Vell as belonging to a single poem because it cannot be determined which should be attributed to which of the poems about Hákon. The present edition also follows this practical solution, and thus contains all the same stanzas as in Skj (on this cf. Fidjestøl 1982, 97), albeit in a somewhat different order.

Even if all thirty-seven stanzas are taken as belonging to Vell, the poem as preserved is a fragment. According to Egils saga (ÍF 2, 270-2) it was so long that Hákon jarl at first refused it a hearing, but relented when Einarr threatened to defect to Sigvaldi jarl, as noted above, and eventually rewarded him richly for the poem. Vell is certainly a drápa, containing an introduction (sts 1-5) and at least one stanza that could belong to the slœmr or conclusion (st. 36; see below). However, none of the stanzas can be identified with any certainty as stef ‘refrain’ stanzas. The order of the stanzas presented here mostly follows their order of appearance in the narrative flow of Hkr, as has been the practice of previous editors. Exceptions to this are the stanzas only preserved in SnE and hence lacking any narrative context. Five of these constitute the poem’s introduction (sts 1-5). Stanzas 33-7 have been placed at the end of the poem because it is uncertain where they belong, and even whether they are truly part of Vell.

The poem can be broken down into the following sections: (1) An introduction, with a call for a hearing and the start of the recitation (sts 1-5); (2) the first of the bloody conflicts with the sons of Eiríkr blóðøx (sts 6-10); (3) the avenging of Hákon’s father Sigurðr (sts 11-12); (4) Hákon’s gaining power and becoming a jarl of the Danish king Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ in Norway, his reintroduction of heathen observances and the skald’s praise of him as a bringer of peace and plenty (sts 13-17); (5) two conflicts with Ragnfrøðr Eiríksson (sts 18-20, 21-4); (6) the battle at the Danevirke (sts 25-8); (7) Hákon’s return to Norway after crossing Gautland (sts 29-31); and (8) concluding praise (st. 32). (9) Presented finally in this edition are the stanzas whose membership of Vell is particularly uncertain: the two stanzas about the battle against the Jómsvíkingar (sts 33-4), st. 35 with its neutral portrayal of a battle (the same, or some other), and st. 36 with its request for, and expectation of, a reward for the poem, which is perhaps part of the slœmr, the conclusion of the drápa. Fidjestøl (1982, 97) and Patzig (1930a, 64) suggest placing this stanza at the beginning instead, but in Egill’s poem Hǫfuðlausn (Egill HflV), for instance, the plea for a reward does not appear until the end (see also Holtsmark 1965b, 703). Stanza 37 is difficult to place on the basis of its content (see Note to st. 37 [All]).

The dating of the poem is uncertain, beyond the fact that, from evidence such as the opening address to the jarl (st. 1/2), it was clearly composed during Hákon’s lifetime, hence before c. 995. If the stanzas about the battle with the Jómsvíkingar do in fact belong to the poem, they would suggest a terminus post quem of c. 985 for the poem’s origin (though the date is uncertain). If these stanzas belong to Hákdr or another poem, Vell may have been composed as early as 975. Finnur Jónsson (1891a, 148; LH I, 533-4) believes the poet must have added these stanzas to the poem after the battle, which is conceivable but cannot be proven.

The poem is composed in the dróttkvætt metre, but hendingar are frequently either missing or used for additional ornamentation. Numerous lines lack skothendingar (sts 2/1, 2/3, 3/3, 11/3, 15/5, 16/1, 19/7, 27/1, 27/7, 29/7, 30/7, 32/3). Additionally, many skothendingar seem limited to just one of the two syllable-final consonants: st. 12/2 stafr : hafði, st. 21/3 verj- : ‑fyrva. Also striking is the common extension of skothendingar into the following line, for instance st. 1/1-2 hugstóran : heyra | heyr : dreyra; st. 4/3-4 byrgis : sorgar | bergs : dverga. The same holds for sts 5/3-4, 8/3-4, 9/3-4, 15/3-4, 21/3-4, 25/3-4, 33/1-2, 3-4, 35/3-4, 36/3-4 and 37/1-2. When the skothending is missing in a particular line, a manner of skothending can be found between the last word of the odd line and the first word of the even line. This then becomes the basis for the even line’s aðalhending, e.g. st. 2/ 3-4 hlýði | hljóð : þjóðir, and likewise in sts 3/3-4, 11/3-4, 27/1-2. Some examples of the use of liðhendr háttr or liðhent (see SnSt Ht 41III) are also found. In this variety of dróttkvætt, hendingar and alliteration coincide on the same syllable, and the aðalhendingar in the even lines form skothendingar with the hendingar in the odd lines, e.g. in st. 10/7-8: Laufa : lífi | lífkǫld : drífu, and similarly sts 14/1-2, 30/3-4, 35/1-2. Some instances of this are questionable, because they can only be called liðhent under the assumption that hendingar involve only a single consonant, e.g. in st. 21/1-2 meir : Mœra | morð : norðan; also sts 26/3-4, 37/1‑2. (On the rhyme schemes in Vell see Kuhn 1981, 303-09 and Kuhn 1983, 291-3.)

The mss relevant for this edition are the Hkr mss , 39, F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, and 325VIII 1 and the ÓT mss 61, 53, 54, 325IX 1a, Bb, 62, and Flat (for sts 6-11, 13-16 and 21-32 or subsets of these); the Fsk mss FskBˣ, FskAˣ (for sts 12, 14/1-4, 15-21, 22/1-4, 24, 28-30, 31/1-4) plus 52ˣ, 301ˣ, 51ˣ (for sts 12, 17-20, which are preserved solely in Fsk); the SnE mss R, , W, U, A, B and C (for sts 1-5, 7/5-8, 31/7-8 and 33-7 or subsets of these), with the addition of 744ˣ where B is illegible (in sts 4, 5, 35, 37); the TGT mss A, W, B (for st. 30/1-2); and the LaufE mss 2368ˣ and 743ˣ (for sts 7/5-6, 35). LaufE also contains texts of sts 5, 7/5-8 and 37, but as copies from extant parts of W these are not of independent value. The main ms. for sts 6-11, 13-16 and 21-32 is (Hkr); for sts 12 and 17-20 it is FskBˣ (Fsk), and for sts 1-5 and 33-7 it is R (SnE).

In addition to the editions listed for the individual stanzas, the following editions of Vell are available and are occasionally cited in the Notes: Vell 1865; Wisén (1886-9), I, 26-9; CPB II, 44-9; ÓT 1892; Lindquist (1929, 44‑55); Davidson (1983, 172-447).

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