Gunnhildr konungamóðir (Gunnh)
10th century; volume 1; ed. R. D. Fulk;
Lausavísa (Lv) - 1
Gunnhildr (Gunnh) was the wife of Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ (d. c. 954; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume) and mother of several kings, including Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’, Erlingr, Guðrøðr, and Sigurðr slefa ‘Saliva’, hence her designation as konungamóðir ‘mother of kings’, and her sons’ designation as Gunnhildarsynir (alternating with Eiríkssynir; see Ættartal [Genealogy] II.c in ÍF 28). She is a figure of fascination and loathing in the sagas. According to Icelandic sources such as Hkr (ÍF 26, 135), she was of humble origin, the daughter of one Ǫzurr lafskegg ‘Wag-beard’, or Ǫzurr toti ‘Snout’ (?), from Hálogaland (Hålogaland) in Norway. Eiríkr, smitten by her beauty, won her by helping her to kill two Finnar (Saami) from whom she had learned sorcery. But in the less fanciful HN (MHN 105) she is called the daughter of the Danish king Gormr inn gamli ‘the Old’. In Fsk it is said that she was universally blamed for the ills suffered in Norway under her husband’s rule (ÍF 29, 76); a similar attitude is expressed in Ágr (ÍF 29, 7). Snorri portrays her as a scheming inciter in Hkr (ÍF 26, 135-6, 204-5) and (supposing Snorri is the author) as a Xanthippe in Egils saga (ÍF 2, 180-3); further scenes in Njáls saga (ÍF 12, 21), Laxdœla saga (ÍF 5, 52), and Egils saga (ÍF 2, 176) show her manipulating situations through seduction and sorcery. Whether she was in fact disliked in her own day or whether her legend simply attracted the venom so often directed against powerful women, it is impossible to say (see further Sigurður Nordal 1941; Olsen 1945b, 190-2, with references). Gunnhildr is credited with only the single helmingr below.
R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Gunnhildr konungamóðir, Lausavísa’ 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. 150.
Skj: Gunnhildr konungamóðir: Lausavísa (AI, 61, BI, 54); stanzas (if different): [v]
in texts: Fsk
SkP info: I, 150
The authorship of this helmingr (Gunnh Lv) is disputed. The witty use of the ship-kenning and tmesis might appear surprising from someone otherwise unknown as a skald, but it is not known how widespread the ability to compose in dróttkvætt was in the tenth century. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 444) is willing to entertain the possibility that it was actually composed by Gunnhildr. Olsen (1945a, 11-12) brings arguments against her authorship, though his case is hardly convincing, and elsewhere (Olsen 1962a, 30) he suggests the possibility that the poem was composed by Eyvindr skáldaspillir or by Hákon, the future king and subject of the poem, himself. Jesch (1991a, 162) raises doubts about Gunnhildr’s authorship on the basis of the observation that ‘it is unlikely that Gunnhildr would have dignified the claim of her husband’s deadly rival to rule in Norway by commemorating it in skaldic verse’. The poem is preserved only in the A-class mss of Fsk.