Sendibítr (‘Biting message’)
Judith Jesch 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Jórunn skáldmær, Sendibítr’ 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. 143.
Skj: Jórunn skáldmær: Sendibítr, om Harald hårfagre (AI, 60-1, BI, 53-4)
in texts: Flat, HHárf, Hkr, ÓH, ÓT, Skm, SnE
SkP info: I, 143
Sendibítr (Jór Send), perhaps ‘Biting message’, consists of three helmingar and two complete stanzas commemorating a reconciliation in the early tenth century between King Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ Hálfdanarson and his son Hálfdan svarti ‘the Black’. The poem in its present state is somewhat cryptic, but the prose preceding st. 2 tells that Hálfdan attacked and burned the farm of Sǫlvi where his rival brother Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ was staying. Eiríkr, sleeping in an outlying building, escaped, and reported the attack to his father Haraldr. The king was furious and gathered a fleet against Hálfdan, who also prepared for action. However, the poet Guthormr sindri ‘Spark (?)’ (Gsind), a friend of both, prevailed on them to make a settlement (see below; and on the nickname sindri, see Biography of Guthormr).
The evidence for the dating of the poem is inconclusive. The vocative Halfdan in st. 2/1 (if the correct reading) gives an impression of contemporaneity at least with Hálfdan, as does the present-tense sýnisk ‘seems’ in st. 2/3 and possibly the rhetorical question which dominates st. 4. However, some of the poem’s vocabulary suggests a date later than the tenth century (see Notes to sts 1/3, 1/4, 2/2, 2/4 and 4/1). Fidjestøl (1982, 181) would place Send later on the grounds that the poem is historical rather than contemporary, citing the way the poem is referred to in Hkr (ÍF 26, 142): Eptir þessi sǫgu orti Jórunn skáldmær nǫkkur ørendi í Sendibít ‘Jórunn Poet-maiden composed some verses about this story in Sendibítr’ (introduction to st. 2). This suggests that it was not contemporaneous with the events described, though it is not possible to determine how much later Jórunn lived or why she composed a poem on these events. The wording also suggests that Send was a poem on various subjects, and that the story of Haraldr and Hálfdan occupied only some stanzas. Send itself makes clear reference in st. 5 to a poem by Guthormr sindri, which may have provided the information for Jórunn’s poem. Guthormr is said in the prose (ÍF 26, 141) to have composed poems in praise of both Haraldr and Hálfdan, refusing any other payment than that they should be reconciled, but these poems do not survive. There are faint echoes of Guthormr’s vocabulary in Jórunn’s poem: the relatively rare word tingl ‘prow-board’ in her st. 4/3 is also found in Gsind Hákdr 2/3, while the more common word eisa ‘fire’ is found both in her st. 1/3 and in Gsind Hákdr 2/1 and 8/3.
The name of the poem is also obscure. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 446) construes it as Sendibítr m. but regards its meaning as uncertain. De Vries (1964-7, I, 151) translates it as beissende Sendung ‘biting message’ and this is the most likely explanation. Probably the best parallel is the word sendimaðr meaning ‘a man who is sent’ or ‘messenger’, with the first element a verbal form. If we take -bítr as a nominal form meaning ‘biter’ (as in sword-names such as Brynjubítr ‘Mail-shirt-biter’, Fótbítr ‘Foot-biter’, Leggbítr ‘Leg-biter’), then we have a ‘biter which is sent’, thus a ‘biting message’, though it is still not clear what exactly is ‘biting’ about Jórunn’s poem. This may have had to do with some other part of the poem which does not survive, or a particular context for the composition of the poem which we can no longer reconstruct. But since there is quite some emphasis in Jórunn’s poem on Guthormr’s poetry (see sts 2, 4, 5 and Notes to sts 2/4, 5/1), it may be that the title refers to that poet’s ‘biting message’ which persuaded the two kings to make peace.
After introducing the poem, Hkr, most mss of ÓH, and ÓT cite only st. 2. Stanzas 3-5 are preserved only in 75c, a fragmentary ms. of ÓH, where they are written on the first leaf. As they are followed by ch. 4 of ÓH, it is clear that they form the end of ch. 3 and of a more extensive quotation of Jórunn’s poem than in the other mss. It is not possible to deduce how much more extensive this was, but layout, capitalisation and syntax all make clear that st. 3 is the second half of a stanza, the first half of which was on the previous leaf. It is not inconceivable that st. 2 was the first half of this stanza, as they have similar content (though Kreutzer 1972, 93 does not think so, and prefers to take st. 1 as its first half). The placing of st. 1 in the reconstruction is conjectural.
For sts 3-5, the sole ms. 75c is the base text; st. 1 is preserved in SnE (R as base text, Tˣ, U, A, B supplemented by 744ˣ where B is illegible, C); and st. 2 is preserved in Hkr (Kˣ as base text, F, J1ˣ), ÓH (Holm2, 972ˣ, 325VI, 73aˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, Bb, Tóm) and ÓT (61, 53, Bb, Flat). Ms. 972ˣ is included since, although the ms. is copied mainly from Holm2 (ÓH 1941, II, 889), it appears to have readings that are independent of Holm2 at this point.