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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Skúli Þorsteinsson (Skúli)

11th century; volume 3; ed. Kate Heslop;

1. Poem about Svǫlðr (Svǫlðr) - 5

Skj info: Skúli Þórsteinsson, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 305-6, BI, 283-4).

Skj poems:
1. Digt om Svolderslaget
2. Lausavísa

Skúli Þorsteinsson (Skúli; c. 970-1040; LH I, 556) was a grandson of Egill Skallagrímsson (Eg ch. 79, ÍF 2, 276); his wife was Bera Ormsdóttir, niece of Þorvaldr víðfǫrli ‘the Wide-travelled’ (Kristni ch. 2, Hb 1892-6, 127). Skúli is listed as a skald of Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson in the Kringla version of Skáldatal but as a skald of Sveinn jarl Hákonarson in the U version (SnE 1848-87, III, 257, 266, 281). A valued member of Eiríkr’s retinue (hirð; Gunnl ch. 6, ÍF 3, 68), he was a forecastle-man (stafnbúi) on the jarl’s ship Járnbarðinn during the battle of Svolder (Svǫlðr, c. 1000; ÓTOdd 1932, 218; cf. Eg ch. 87, ÍF 2, 300). The authors of ÓT and ÓTOdd consider him a key eyewitness of the battle, about which he is said to have composed a flokkr (ÓTOdd 1932, 210). The battle stanzas by him which are preserved in the kings’ sagas and SnE may reasonably be assigned to this poem, but there is no trace of the additional encomiastic poems hypothesised by earlier scholars (SnE 1848-87, III, 719; LH I, 556). A single helmingr with mythological subject-matter, also preserved in SnE, is presumably from a different, lost poem. Skúli inherited the family farm at Borg (Eg ch. 87, ÍF 2, 300) and appears in later life as a generous and popular patron of young Icelanders (BjH chs 1-3, 7, ÍF 3, 111-19, 129).

Poem about Svǫlðr — Skúli SvǫlðrIII

Kate Heslop 2017, ‘ Skúli Þorsteinsson, Poem about Svǫlðr’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 360. <> (accessed 7 July 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5 

Skj: Skúli Þórsteinsson: 1. Digt om Svolderslaget, omkr. 1020 (AI, 305-6, BI, 283-4)

in texts: Flat, Fsk, Hkr, ÓT, ÓTC, ÓTOdd, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 360

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


These five stanzas (Skúli Svǫlðr) commemorate the ageing skald’s youthful participation in the battle of Svolder (9 September 1000) and, perhaps, other battles, where he won gold and fame. Finnur Jónsson (Skj) called this putative poem Digt om Svolderslaget ‘Poem about the battle of Svolder’, while Kock (Skald) provides the caption Dikt om det s.k. Svolderslaget ‘Poem about the so-called battle of Svolder’. Stanzas 1, 3, 4 and 5 are cited in Skm (SnE). Stanzas 3-5 are attributed to ‘Skúli Þorsteinsson’, while st. 1 closely follows st. 3 and is introduced ok enn sem Skúli kvað ‘and as Skúli further said’ (SnE 1998, I, 92). Stanza 2 is cited, and attributed to Skúli Þorsteinsson, as part of the description of the battle of Svolder in several kings’ sagas (Fsk; ÓTOdd; Hkr; ÓT). ÓTOdd and Fsk describe st. 2 as part of a flokkr (one ms. of ÓTOdd adds um orrostuna ‘about the battle’), and the place name Svolder (ON Svǫlðr) appears in both sts 2 and 4, while all five stanzas share martial subject-matter. It therefore seems justified to collect them into a single poem, as previous editors have done. However, nothing in sts 1, 3  and 5 links them to Svolder in particular, and the references in st. 2 to the skald’s advanced age suggest this is a retrospective poem, probably rehearsing the sjau orrostur ‘seven battles’ Skúli is said to have fought (Eg ch. 90, ÍF 2, 300), rather than a royal encomium (Baetke 1951, 94; Fidjestøl 1982, 166). There is little evidence for the ordering of the stanzas. Stanza 1, which seems to describe the speaker awakening from a dream to compose his poem, is presumably the opening stanza, but the remaining stanzas could be arranged in any order. The main ms. for sts 1 and 3-5 (in Skm, SnE) is R, while the main ms. for st. 2 is Holm18. Stanzas are also preserved in the following mss: , W, U, A, B (and 744ˣ), C (SnE); FskBˣ and FskAˣ (Fsk); 310 (ÓTOdd); , F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VIII 1 (Hkr); 61, 53, 54, Bb, 325VIII 2b, Flat (ÓT).

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