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Runic Dictionary

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Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (ÞjóðA)

11th century; volume 2; ed. Diana Whaley;

1. Magnússflokkr (Magnfl) - 19

Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (ÞjóðA) is listed in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 254, 262) among the poets of Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and Haraldr harðráði ‘Hard-rule’ Sigurðarson, and virtually all his extant poetry seems to have been composed in honour of them, or in association with them; hence it dates from the period 1035-1066. The text of Skáldatal in AM 761 a 4°ˣ (SnE 1848-87, III, 259) also credits Þjóðólfr with poetry for Haraldr Þorkelsson, son of Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ and one of the Dan. magnates present in Norway during the reign of Sveinn Álfífuson (1030-35). No identifiable fragments of this remain, but if true the tradition would suggest that Þjóðólfr was born not much later than 1010. Hemings þáttr Áslákssonar (Hem) has him die at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, and there is no record of him after that date, though Lv 11 has the air of being composed after the battle. Þjóðólfr was, according to Skáldatal and Fsk (ÍF 29, 245), the brother of another skald, Bǫlverkr Arnórsson (Bǫlv), and according to Sneglu-Halla þáttr (Snegl) in Flat (1860-8, III, 415), was from an undistinguished family in Svarfaðardalur, northern Iceland. The same þáttr (p. 421) names his father not as Arnórr but as Þorljótr, in the context of a scurrilous anecdote told against Þjóðólfr by Sneglu-Halli (SnH), who also taunts him with having composed the otherwise unknown Sorptrogsvísur ‘Dustbin Vísur’. The þáttr nevertheless describes him as accomplished (menntr vel) and courteous (kurteis maðr), highly favoured by King Haraldr and chief of his poets (haufutskꜳlld sitt, p. 415). Þjóðólfr’s poetry, rich in allusion and imagery, has continued to be widely admired, and it gains colour and vigour from the fact that he participated in many of the campaigns he depicts. It undoubtedly also reflects the fact that he was one of an exceptional circle of poets patronised by Haraldr (see Turville-Petre 1968), and much of his poetry shares topics and imagery with that of his contemporary Arnórr jarlaskáld (Arn), though there is no account of the dealings between these two. Þjóðólfr figures in several anecdotes centring on poetic composition: see Contexts to Lv 2-6, though we have no way of knowing whether he was so touchy about his reputation as the Context to Lv 4, and Snegl, would suggest; he also features as a go-between figure in Brands þáttr ǫrva, which cites no poetry. For brief biographies of Þjóðólfr see, e.g. SnE 1848-87, III, 578-9; LH 1894-1901, I, 627-32; Hollander 1945, 189-96.

In addition to the works edited here as Þjóðólfr’s, there have been further attributions to him. Þfagr Sveinn 7 is attributed to Þjóðólfr in Mork (1928-32, 165-6) and Flat (1860-8, III, 341), but to Þorleikr fagri in other sources; ÞKolb Eirdr 17I is attributed to Þjóðólfr in the U ms. alone, and Þfisk Lv 3 is attributed to him in F. Further, Flat, by citing Okík Magn 1 after ÞjóðA Magnfl 18 without announcing a change of skald implicitly assigns the latter to Þjóðólfr. We might perhaps also imagine Þjóðólfr having a hand in Anon (HSig) 2, the st. collaboratively composed by Haraldr’s men. A further set of six sts presented are anonymous in the medieval sources but are presented in this edn as Halli XI Fl (for reasons explained in Halli Biography below). These are printed among Þjóðólfr’s works in CPB II, 210-11 and listed under his name in SnE 1848-87, III, 583-4; Poole also finds ‘the ascription to Þjóðólfr Arnórsson … tempting, on stylistic grounds’ (1991, 75).

Preserved mainly in the kings’ sagas, above all in Hkr, Þjóðólfr’s oeuvre presents exceptional problems of reconstruction, which are discussed at some length in the Introductions to the individual poems or sets of sts. The chief problem is that Þjóðólfr certainly composed a major dróttkvætt poem for each of his patrons Magnús (Magnússflokkr, Magnfl) and Haraldr (Sexstefja, Sex), but that in each case there is also a set of sts that may or may not belong in the main encomium. The decision has been taken here to print them separately: fourteen sts depicting the aftermaths of Magnús’s major battles at Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes) are presented as ‘Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi’ (Magn), and seven describing the launch of Haraldr’s great levied fleet from Nidelven (the river Nið) as ‘Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr’ (Har). As a reference aid, the arrangement of Þjóðólfr’s oeuvre in SkP and Skj is shown here.

Magnússflokkr (ÞjóðA Magnfl)
SkP Skj
15Náði jarl at eyða 19
16Rǫnn lézt, ræsir Þrœnda,20
17Hizig laut, es heitir 21
18Flýði jarl af auðu, 22
19Háðisk heilli góðu25
Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi (ÞjóðA Magn)
1Hrauð leifs mǫgr áðan Magnfl 15
2Misst hafa Sveins at sýnu, Magnfl 16
3Gær sák grjóti stóru Lv 1
4Spurði einu orði Magnfl 17
5Saurstokkinn bar svíra Magnfl 18
6Hrindr af hrókalandi Lv 2
7Menn eigu þess minnask, Lv 3
8Skjǫld bark heim frá hjaldri Magnfl 23
9Bauð leifs sonr áðan Magnfl 24
10Nú taka Norðmenn knýja,Lv 4
11Brum jǫrn at œrnuLv 5
12Svíðr of seggja búðirLv 6
13Fjǫrð lét fylkir verðaLv 7
14Ek hef ekki at drekkaLv 8
Runhent poem about Haraldr (ÞjóðA Run)
Sexstefja (ÞjóðA Sex)
6Þjóð veit, at hefr háðar7
7Stólþengils lét stinga6
8Ok hertoga hneykir25
9Reist eikikjǫlr austan8
10Vatn lézt, vísi, slitna,9
11Gegn skyli herr, sem hugnar10
12Frn hefr sveit við Sveini11
13Lét vingjafa veitir12
14Fast bað fylking hrausta13
15Alm dró upplenzkr hilmir14
16Flest vas hirð, sús hraustum15
17Sogns kvðu gram gegnan16
18Sveinn át sigr at launa17
19Nús of verk, þaus vísi,18
20Létu lystir sleitu19
21Tók Holmbúa hneykir20
22Gagn brann greypra þegna; 21
23Fœrði fylkir Hǫrða,22
24Áræðis naut eyðir23
25Refsir reyndan ofsa24
26Mǫrk lét veitt fyr verka26
27Ǫrð sær Yrsu burðar27
28Lét hræteina hveiti32
29Blóðorra lætr barri30a
30Geirs oddum lætr greddir30b
31Gera vas gisting byrjuð29
32Hár skyli hirðar stjóri35
Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr (ÞjóðA Har)
1Skeið sák framm at flœði, Lv 18
2Slyngr laugardag lǫngu Lv 19
3Rétt kann rœði slíta Lv 20
4Sorgar veit, áðr slíti Lv 21
5Eigu skjól und skógi Lv 22
6Hléseyjar lemr hvan Lv 23
7Haraldr þeysti nú hraustla Lv 24
Fragments (ÞjóðA Frag )
1 Nús valmeiðum víðisLv 9
2Jarl/Ǫrr lætr, odda skúrar Sex 28
3Ganga él of Yngva Sex 31
4Snart við sæþráð kyrtat Sex 33
5Útan bindr við enda Sex 34
Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Lausavísur (ÞjóðA Lv)
1Leiða langar dauða Lv 10
2Sumar annat skal sunnar Lv 11
3[Logit hefr Baldr at Baldri]
brynþings fetilstingar
Lv 12
4Mildingr rauð í móðu Lv 13
5Varp ór þrætu þorpi Lv 14
6Sigurðr eggjaði sleggju Lv 15
7Haddan skall, en Halli Lv 16
8Út stendr undan báti Lv 17
9Ǫld es, sús jarli skyldi Lv 25
10Skalka frá, þótt fylkir Lv 26
11Ǫld hefr afráð goldit Lv 27

Reconstructions of the Þjóðólfr corpus are offered by Finnur Jónsson in SnE 1848-87, III, 579-90, which is the basis (almost unchanged) for Skj (AI, 361-83, BI, 332-53), and the Skj ordering is retained in Skald (I, 168-77); other major contributions are by Guðbrandur Vigfússon in CPB (II, 198-212) and by Fidjestøl (1982, 133-43, 172).

The principal eds consulted in the course of re-editing Þjóðólfr’s poetry for SkP are listed for each st., and are of two main types: eds of the skaldic corpus (Finnur Jónsson’s in Skj AI, 361-83; BI, 332-53 and Ernst Albin Kock’s in Skald I, 168-77, supported by numerous NN) and eds of the various prose works in which the poetry is preserved. Extracts are also included in anthologies, articles and other works including (with ten or more sts): CPB II, 198-212; Kock and Meissner 1931, I, 57-60; Hollander 1945,190-6 (annotated translations only), Poole 1991, 59-63; and (with seven sts) Turville-Petre 1976, 97-102. Such works as these, together with others containing comment on the poetry, are cited as appropriate in the Notes.


Magnússflokkr — ÞjóðA MagnflII

Diana Whaley 2009, ‘ Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Magnússflokkr’ 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. 61-87. <> (accessed 2 July 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19 

Skj: Þjóðolfr Arnórsson: 1. Magnúsflokkr, omtr. 1045 (AI, 361-8, BI, 332-8); stanzas (if different): 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25

in texts: Flat, Fsk, H-Hr, Hkr, LaufE, MGóð, MH, ÓH, SnE, SnEW

SkP info: II, 61-87

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Nineteen sts are printed here as MagnússflokkrFlokkr about Magnús’ (ÞjóðA Magnfl), a poem addressed to Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson at some point between 1044 and his death in 1047. All except for sts 1 and 6 are preserved in Hkr ( as main ms., 39, F, E, J2ˣ), and all but four (sts 1-4) also in H-Hr (H, Hr). There are also five (Magnfl 5-7, 17-18) in Flat (Flat), three (Magnfl 5, 7, 18) in Fsk (FskBˣ, FskAˣ) and one (Magnfl 7) in ÓH (Holm2, 972ˣ, 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 325V, 61, Bb, Tóm). The couplet Magnfl 1 is preserved in Codex Wormianus (W) alone, though it was copied into LaufE and into Árni Magnússon’s skaldic anthology in 761bˣ. This contrasts with the sts printed in this edn as Magn, which are not preserved outside Hkr and H-Hr. On previous eds of the poetry, see the Biography of Þjóðólfr above.

The authorship of the sts included here is unproblematic. Þjóðólfr is named as poet in all cases, with the untroubling exception of sts 5, 6, 7, 17 in Flat and st. 19 in H-Hr; see Notes to these. That they also belong to an extended poem is suggested by their content and by their manner of citation in the prose sources, normally using the formulas Svá segir Þjóðólfr (skáld) ‘As (the poet) Þjóðólfr says’ and variants, or Ok enn kvað hann ‘And he recited further’ following a st. attributed to Þjóðólfr. The title Magnúsflokkr also has medieval authority, occurring in the introduction to st. 2, and the specification Þjóðólfr kvað svá um Magnús konung ‘Þjóðólfr recited this about King Magnús’ introduces st. 3, both in Hkr, their only source, and there is no reason to doubt that the poem about Magnús was a flokkr (poem without refrains) rather than a drápa (encomium with refrains). The use of 2nd pers. verbs and apostrophes alongside 3rd pers. forms shows that the poem was addressed to Magnús during his lifetime.

There is, then, firm ground on which to build a reconstruction of Magnfl. However, there are not only nineteen but thirty-four sts (thirty complete sts, three helmingar and one couplet) attributed to Þjóðólfr which fairly clearly concern Magnús inn góði Óláfsson. As well as being cited in narratives relating to him, there is internal evidence to confirm this in most cases. Several name the dedicatee as Magnús (Magnfl 11, 12, 15, 18, Magn 9, Magnfl 19) or sonr/mǫgr leifs ‘Óláfr’s son’ (Magnfl 1, 5, Magn 1, 9) or bróðursonr Haralds ‘Haraldr’s brother’s son’ (Magnfl 7). Slightly more obliquely, there are references to his first rival Sveinn Álfífuson (Magnfl 3), or more often to his main adversary Sveinn Úlfsson, referred to as Sveinn (Magn 2, Magnfl 17), mǫgr Ulfs ‘Úlfr’s son’ (Magnfl 5), or plain jarl (Magnfl 8, 12, 13, Magn 5). Haraldr Sigurðarson also fought Sveinn, so that in some cases it is only the evidence of Hkr and others of the kings’ sagas that points to a poem about Magnús. The place-names Heiðabýr ‘Hedeby’ and Skotborgar ‘the Kongeå’ (Magnfl 6) connect the poetry to Magnús’s triumphs over the Wends, while Helganes ‘Helgenæs’ (Magnfl 17) points to the victory over Sveinn Úlfsson, for which there is other skaldic evidence. Other sts contain details, such as the ship-name Visundr ‘Bison’ in Magnfl 4, which do not clinch the identification, yet are wholly compatible with the deeds of Magnús as traditionally conceived. This leaves Magnfl 9, 10 and 14, which are rather general battle-descriptions, but belong so credibly with the sts alongside which they are preserved (see below) that their place in the poem is beyond reasonable doubt.

Defining the status of Þjóðólfr’s thirty-four sts about Magnús, and especially ascertaining which belong to Magnfl, is one of the most difficult problems of skaldic reconstruction, and is discussed at length in Whaley 2007. There has been widespread consensus that nineteen sts belong to Magnfl, but beyond that scholars have differed widely, from including only the nineteen (CPB II, 199-202; ÍF 28, 7 n. 1), via a compromise twenty-five-st. poem in Skj, to including all thirty-four (Fidjestøl 1982, 133, 172). The solution adopted in this edn, like any other solution, can only be tentative, but it is to treat nineteen sts as Magnfl proper and a further fourteen as ‘Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi’ (Magn). The remaining st. is Frag 1, which, as argued in its Introduction, does not credibly belong to either the Magnfl or the Magn group.

The nub of the Magnfl problem is that the external evidence of prose context and the internal evidence of style appear to point in different directions. The sts printed here as Magnfl and Magn are intertwined, with little difference of treatment, in Hkr, which might well suggest that they belonged to the same poem. In order to show this difficulty, to introduce the sts and their content and to show the rationale for the ordering of Magnfl in this edn, the following schema presents both sets of sts as they appear in Hkr, although as noted above Magnfl 1 and 6 do not appear there, and the association of Magnfl 18 with two different battles, Århus (Áróss) in Fsk and Helgenæs (Helganes) in Hkr, is a reminder that while the medieval prose sources are our best evidence, they are not perfectly reliable. (Dates given are traditional, but specifically indebted to Hkr 1991.)

(a) Magnfl 1-3 trace the return of the young Magnús from exile, by sea to Sigtuna (Sigtúnir) then overland from Sweden into Norway (1035).

(b) Magnfl 4 depicts a war-fleet travelling south and east, then 5 tells of oaths made on a shrine, but soon broken, by Sveinn Úlfsson at the river Götaälv (Elfr, 1042).

(c) Magnfl 6 and 7 celebrate victory over the Wends in a land-battle near the river Kongeå (Skotborgará, 1043).

(d) Magnfl 8-14 and Magn 1-2 depict the action in the sea-battle at Århus (Áróss, 1043). The king and jarl clash (Magnfl 8), missile-showers pelt (Magnfl 9, 10), Magnús urges his men (Magnfl 11), Magnús and his men advance and clear Dan. ships (Magnfl 12), the Danes flee (Magnfl 13) or are slain (Magnfl 14).

(e) In the aftermath of the battle, seven ships are cleared (Magn 1), and the bodies of Sveinn’s troops are flotsam on the waves (Magn 2). The chase continues in Sjælland (Selund, Zealand): there is a strandhǫgg or slaughter of cattle on the beach (Magn 3), Danes grieve and flee (Magn 4), and the hero pursues the fugitives across bogs (Magn 5).

(f) Sveinn’s attacks on royal territory over the winter provoke Magnús to defend it (Magnfl 15); he sets fire to buildings in retribution against Sveinn’s supporters (Magnfl 16).

(g) Finally comes the battle off Helgenæs (Helganes, c. 1044): the attack (Magnfl 17), clearing of ships and flight of the enemy (Magnfl 18).

(h) In the aftermath, the Danes are pursued across Fyn (Fjón, Magn 6-7), fine booty is gained by the skald (Magn 8), and Skåne (Skáney) is ravaged (Magn 9-14).

(j) Magnfl 19 then summarises Magnús’s Dan. campaign, praising a threefold victory.

As noted above, only Magnfl 2 is explicitly cited from Magnúsflokkr, but it might be assumed that the remaining sts more likely than not come from the same poem, especially when they are almost uniformly introduced with formulas such as Svá segir Þjóðólfr ‘As Þjóðólfr says’, which are normally assumed to indicate extracts from extended poems. However, the assumption is not quite beyond question (Whaley 2007, 82, 84), and the fourteen sts depicting the aftermaths to the battles off Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes) are in a style that differs markedly from the rest of the poem, especially in the use of pres.-tense and 1st-pers. utterances, reinforced by deictic adverbs referring to the ‘here’ and ‘now’ rather than the ‘there’ and ‘then’. Thus we have pres.-tense description and narration such as hérs skark ‘there is tumult here’ (Magn 9), or skjótt ríða nú skreyttar | Sknungar lokvánir ‘the Skánungar’s fancy hopes for the outcome are now swiftly dispersing’ (Magn 1), or sýgk ór sǫltum ægi | sylg ‘I suck a slurp from the salt ocean’ (Magn 14), and where pres.-tense description and narration dominates, even pret. verbs take on a different aspect, referring to the immediate past, rather than more remote events. Some of the grammatical pres.-tenses, as in vn es fagrs á Fjóni | fljóðs ‘there’s prospect of a lovely woman on Fyn’ (Magn 7), also create an air of anticipation which places the skald, at least imaginatively, in the midst of events as they unfold. Further, apostrophes and 2nd-pers. verbs are absent from the sts excluded from Magnfl, while 1st-pers. utterances are much more numerous and are different in kind, presenting the skald as an actor in events rather than as mere narrator (Whaley 2007, 94-5). These discourse features collectively produce a narrative mode very different from the retrospective narration or description of statements such as herr fylgði þér, harri, hraustr austan í Nóreg ‘a valiant army followed you, prince, west into Norway’ (Magnfl 3), which is the stock mode of skaldic encomium.

There are several possible scenarios for the genesis of the sts on the aftermaths of Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes), but one reasonable assumption might be that they belong together as either one or two sets. This is suggested by their common subject matter, and by certain close stylistic resemblances. In Magn 12, for instance, the quick vér hlutum sigr ‘we won victory’ sharpens the picture of the hapless menn Sveins ‘Sveinn’s men’ who sárir ... fyrir renna ‘run ahead, wounded’, and the same contrast exists in Magn 13 between the victor’s conquest fjǫrð ‘last year’ and the menn Sveins who still renna ‘run’; more straightforwardly, the phrase of hauga ‘across the hills’ (of Skåne (Skáney)) echoes between Magn 5 and 9. Serial composition would not necessarily be incompatible with a belief that the sts were lvv. extemporised more or less in the midst of the action. However, in the absence of any indication from the prose compilers that they knew these sts as lvv., it seems more likely that the skald is consciously recreating the scenes after the event, speaking, as observer and participant, as if simultaneously with the events. The question is then whether such a sequence could be incorporated into an extended retrospective poem, either from the outset or at a later stage. It is not implausible that a poet should vary an essentially retrospective presentation by using the historic pres. at certain crucial points to draw us imaginatively into the scene he paints—weapons fly in the storm of battle, the vanquished flee, or (anticipating the discussion of ÞjóðA Sex below) a beautiful dragon-ship gleams with gold—and there are countless parallels in Norse-Icel. and world literature, including skaldic ones as discussed by Poole (1991, 24-56), though his chapter on the historic pres. draws chiefly on picture-describing poetry and late, especially Christian, poems. But when the pres.-tense utterances are combined with references to immediately prior events and anticipation of future ones the impression is of a complex temporal stance radically different from the main retrospective one of Magnfl. It is not impossible that the skald and audience could have embraced such switches, yet one might wonder why they only affect the ‘aftermath’ sections and not the main battle descriptions, and such a mixture of modes would have no parallel in the formal skaldic encomia that have been preserved. Add to this that if all thirty-three sts belong to Magnfl, it would have been (allowing for incompleteness) an exceptionally long flokkr, with massively disproportionate coverage of the aftermaths of the two main battles, and the fact that these sts are only preserved in Hkr and H-Hr, not Fsk or Flat, the safer option seems to treat the fourteen sts separately.

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