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Data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas

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Vǫlu-Steinn (VSt)

10th century; volume 3; ed. Edith Marold;

Ǫgmundardrápa (Erf) - 2

The only sources on the life of the poet Vǫlu-Steinn (VSt) are references to him in Landnámabók (Ldn, ÍF 1, 160, 184, 186). He does not appear in Skáldatal, probably because he did not compose poems for any rulers or magnates. According to Ldn (ÍF 1, 186), Vǫlu-Steinn came to Iceland from Hålogaland, Norway, together with his mother Þuríðr sundafyllir ‘Filler of Waterways’ and claimed land in Bolungarvík in the western fjords, presumably around 960. The mother is portrayed as a woman skilled in magic, and her nickname derives from her having magically filled the waters in Hålogaland with fish during a famine there. Her son, Vǫlu-Steinn, must have received his name because he was the son of a vǫlva ‘seeress, sorceress’ (Konráð Gíslason 1874, 25; Guðmundur Þorláksson 1882, 72; Olsen 1916b, 240; LH I, 510). All that remains of his poetry are the two helmingar preserved and attributed to him in Skm (SnE).

Ǫgmundardrápa — VSt ErfIII

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2017, ‘ Vǫlu-Steinn, Ǫgmundardrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 427. <> (accessed 21 May 2022)

stanzas:  1   2 

Skj: Vǫlu-Steinn: , En drape om hans afdøde sön Ögmundr, hvoraf første vers var forfattet af Gestr enn spaki (AI, 98-9, BI, 93)

in texts: Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 427

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


In Skm (SnE 1998, I, 13, 86) Vǫlu-Steinn is credited with two helmingar (VSt Erf) composed in dróttkvætt metre. These fragments are likely to be remnants of a poem composed in honour of Vǫlu-Steinn’s deceased son, Ǫgmundr, who, according to Landnámabók (Ldn, ÍF 1, 159-60), was killed at the Þorskafjarðarþing c. 1002. Vǫlu-Steinn is said to have mourned his son so intensely that his other son, Egill, sought help from a wise man, Gestr Oddleifsson, who composed the opening of an ǪgmundardrápaDrápa about Ǫgmundr’ (ÍF 1, 184). It is generally assumed that the two surviving stanzas attributed to Vǫlu-Steinn were part of this Ǫgmundardrápa. Because the first of these stanzas bears all the marks of being the opening stanza of this poem, it ought to be attributed to Gestr Oddleifsson according to Ldn (loc. cit.). Yet, Skm (SnE 1998, I, 13) nonetheless ascribes this stanza to Vǫlu-Steinn. Various explanations for this discrepancy have been put forward (see Konráð Gíslason 1874, 26; Guðmundur Þorláksson 1882, 72; Konráð Gíslason 1892, 115; LH I, 511; Frank 1978, 95). Jakob Benediktsson (ÍF 1, 184-5 n. 4) assumes that Gestr indeed composed the upphaf ‘beginning’ and that Vǫlu-Steinn then composed the rest of the poem. But because the surviving st. 1, beginning with heyr, Egill …‘Listen, Egill …’, shows clear characteristics of being the first stanza of the poem, it cannot be a continuation. It is impossible to ascertain whether our st. 1 is indeed the Gestr stanza or whether Vǫlu-Steinn made his own, new upphaf. It is, of course, also possible that the story in Ldn is just an invented anecdote. The problem posed by the account of Ldn cannot be solved satisfactorily, and this edn follows Skm in ascribing both stanzas to Vǫlu-Steinn.

Landnámabók’s account of how the poem originated is reminiscent of the episode in Egils saga (Eg ch. 78, ÍF 2, 243-5) that describes how Egill Skallagrímsson came to compose his Sonatorrek (Egill StV; dated to c. 960) in an attempt to overcome his grief at the loss of his son, Bǫðvarr. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 511) regarded Ǫgmundardrápa as a counterpart to Egill’s Sonatorrek, and the kennings in the first stanza (see Note to st. 1 [All]) show that Sonatorrek, as well as other poetry by Egill, served as a model for Vǫlu-Steinn’s poem. It is noteworthy that both Ǫgmundardrápa and Sonatorrek are laments that diverge from the typical erfidrápur ‘memorial drápur’, whose primary topic is the glorification of the deceased.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated