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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Anonymous Poems, 2. Gátur, 1 [Vol. 3, 632]

[3] aldrtjón Ellu ‘life-loss of Ælla <Northumbrian king>’: I.e. ‘eagle’ (ON ǫrn). Ælla (Ella) or Ælle was king of Northumbria in 867 and was killed during the Viking incursions into the British Isles that year (see ASC, s. a.). According to several sources, he was tortured to death by means of the so-called ‘blood-eagle’ rite by Ívarr inn beinlausi ‘the Boneless’ and his brothers in vengeance for their father, Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’, whom Ælla had killed. Precisely what blood-eagling involves varies from source to source: the carving of an eagle into the victim’s back, with or without the addition of salt (Ragn ch. 17, FSGJ I, 278; Saxo 2005, I, 9, 5, 5, pp. 610-11; ÍF 26, 132; ÍF 34, 13); the tearing out of ribs and lungs (Orkn ch. 8, ÍF 34, 13; HHárfHkr ch. 30, ÍF 26, 132); or a combination of all of the above (RagnSon ch. 3, FSGJ I, 298). Roberta Frank (1984a; 1990b) has argued that the rite never existed at all, and that the later descriptions resulted from misinterpretation of a skaldic stanza, Sigv Knútdr 1I (see Note to [All] there). She believes that the stanza merely suggests that Ívarr and his brothers provided Ælla’s body as carrion for the eagle, a standard skaldic motif. Whatever the historical reality, the present line requires understanding the ‘eagle’ as the method of Ælla’s death. A similar principle is involved in ESk Hardr II 3/1, 2II, where eagles are referred to as geitunga Ellu ‘Ælla’s birds’. The solution is written above the line in 1562ˣ.


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