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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorleikr fagri (Þfagr)

11th century; volume 2; ed. Kari Ellen Gade;

Flokkr about Sveinn Úlfsson (Sveinn) - 10

Skj info: Þórleikr fagri, Islandsk skjald, 11. årh. (AI, 396-9, BI, 365-8).

Skj poems:
En flokk om Sven Ulfssön
En flokk om Sven Ulfssön 11-13

Þorleikr’s background is unknown. In 1051 he travelled from Iceland via Norway to Denmark to present a poem to Sveinn Úlfsson (ÍF 28, 113; ÍF 29, 253; Mork 1928-32, 161; Flat 1860-8, III, 338; Fms 6, 256). Both his name and his nickname fagri ‘the Fair’ indicate that he may have come from the family of the Laxdœlir (see Genealogy IIIa in ÍF 5; SnE 1848-87, III, 737-9; LH 1894-1901, I, 641-2). Þorleikr was a rather common name among the Laxdœlir (e.g. Þorleikr Hǫskuldsson and Þorleikr Bollason), and members of that family, such as Hǫskuldr Dala-Kollsson, Óláfr pá ‘Peacock’ Hǫskuldsson and Hallgerðr Hǫskuldsdóttir, were admired for their beauty (see ÍF 5, 14, 27; ÍF 12, 6-7). Þorleikr is listed in Skáldatal as one of the poets who eulogised Sveinn Úlfsson, and it is not said that he composed about any other dignitary or ruler (see SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267, 283).

Flokkr about Sveinn Úlfsson — Þfagr SveinnII

Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘ Þorleikr fagri, Flokkr about Sveinn Úlfsson’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 313-22. <> (accessed 5 July 2022)

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Skj: Þórleikr fagri: En flokk om Sven Ulfssön, 1051 (AI, 396-9, BI, 365-8); stanzas (if different): 11 | 12 | 13

in texts: Flat, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, HSig, Knýtl, MH, Mork

SkP info: II, 313-22

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


All prose sources state that the poem (Þfagr Sveinn) which Þorleikr composed in Sveinn Úlfsson’s honour was a flokkr (a longer poem without stef ‘refrain’). Finnur Jónsson (SnE 1847-87, III, 738; Skj) assigns thirteen sts to that poem. Three of these are recorded in SnE only and, although their content shows that they must have belonged to an encomium to a dignitary or ruler, the evidence is too scanty to allow for an attribution to Sveinn (but see Fidjestøl 1982, 144-5). Accordingly, those three sts are treated as fragments and edited in SkP III (Þfagr Frag 1-3III). Two of the remaining sts (sts 1, 10) are preserved only in Knýtl (JÓ, 20dˣ, 873ˣ, 1005ˣ (st. 1), 19ˣ (st. 1); JÓ is the main ms.). Stanzas 2-9 are recorded in Fsk (st. 5 in FskBˣ only), and sts 2-3, 6-9 are quoted in Mork (Mork), Flat (Flat), H-Hr (H, Hr) and Hkr (, 39, F, E, J2ˣ). An examination of the variant readings according to the ms. stemma shows that Mork offers the best readings for sts 2-3, 6-9. For sts 4-5, which are given in Fsk only, variant readings from AM 51 folˣ (51ˣ) are given selectively. All the prose sources mention the poet’s name, but both Fsk and Flat mistakenly identify him as ‘Þorleifr fagri’ the first time he is referred to (ÍF 29, 253; Flat 1860-8, III, 338). The poem describes the following events in Sveinn’s life: his participation in the battle of Lyrskovshede in 1043 (st. 1; see also Arn Magndr 10-11, Arn Hryn 13 and ÞjóðA Magnfl 6-7); the appointed meeting with Haraldr harðráði in the Götaälv in 1049 (sts 2-5; see also Hharð Lv 5 and ÞjóðA Lv 3); the subsequent sacking of Hedeby by Haraldr (st. 6; see also Anon (HSig) 2); and Sveinn’s encounters with Haraldr and the Norwegians after the attack on Hedeby (sts 7-9). The last st. (st. 10) pays homage to Sveinn and enumerates his enemies. The poem is unusual in that it is a eulogy of a king who features as the enemy in most of the surviving poetry of the period.

The change of perspective in the sts themselves is also peculiar: sts 1, 6-10 are retrospective and in the past tense, whereas sts 2-5 are in the pres. tense, producing an anticipation of the events that will take place. This change of perspective (and verbal tense) is reflected in the prose contexts within which the sts are transmitted. All prose versions agree that Þorleikr, en route from Iceland to Norway, was in the process of composing a flokkr in honour of Sveinn Úlfsson. When he arrived in northern Norway, he learned that Haraldr had left for the Götaälv to meet with Sveinn. According to Hkr (ÍF 28, 113; closely similar in Mork 1928-32, 161), Þorleikr reacted to this news by reciting two sts: Þá kvað Þorleikr þetta ‘Then Þorleikr said this’; Ok enn kvað hann þetta ‘And again he recited this’ (in Mork there is no prose link between the sts). The two sts, which are preceded by formulas that usually introduce lvv., are sts 2-3 below. Fsk (ÍF 29, 253) at this point gives sts 2-5, preceded by <Þá> orti hann þetta ‘Then he composed this’. In a similar vein, st. 6 is also presented as being composed by Þorleikr upon hearing that Sveinn failed to appear at the stipulated meeting, but all redactors explicitly assign this st. to his flokkr: Þessa getr Þorleikr ok í sínum flokki, þá er hann hafði spurt, at engi hafði tekizk orrosta við Elfina ‘Þorleikr also tells of this in his flokkr, when he had learned that no battle had taken place at the Götaälv’ (Hkr, ÍF 28, 115; closely similar in Fsk, ÍF 29, 257); Þesa miɴniz oc Þorleicr fagri isinom flocciÞorleikr fagri also commemorates this in his flokkr’ (Mork 1928-32, 164). In contrast, sts 7-9, all in the pret. tense, are cited in the prose for historical verification, and they are introduced by Svá segir Þorleikr fagriÞorleikr fagri says this’ (Hkr, ÍF 28, 116-18); Þetta boþ Harallz saɴar þioðolfr [sic] ‘Þjóðólfr [sic] confirms this offer of Haraldr’s’, Her vm orti Þorleicr ‘Þorleikr composed about this’, sem Þorleicr s. ‘as Þorleikr says/said’ (Mork 1928-32, 165, 168-9); Svá segir Þorleikr ‘Þorleikr says this’, Um þetta orti Þorleikr ‘Þorleikr composed about this’, Svá sagði Þorleikr ‘Þorleikr said this’ (Fsk, ÍF 29, 258, 260). That is also the case with the two sts (both in the pret. tense) that are cited in Knýtl (ÍF 34, 130, 134). There is no indication that the compilers of Hkr, Mork and Fsk did not attribute sts 2-5 to Þorleikr’s flokkr about Sveinn; rather it seems that they assumed that this flokkr had been composed in stages, and the pres. tense in sts 2-5 (and 6) must have prompted the introductory formulas normally associated with lvv. (see Fidjestøl 1982, 144).

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