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Bersi Skáld-Torfuson (Bersi)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Diana Whaley;

1. Flokkr about Óláfr helgi (Ólfl) - 3

Bersi Skáld-Torfuson (or simply Torfuson; Bersi) is named from his mother, an otherwise unknown female skald Torfa, from Miðfjörður, Húnavatnsþing, northern Iceland. He is introduced as skáld gótt ‘a fine poet’ in Grettis saga (ÍF 7, 42); his birth would be placed c. 985-90 (LH I, 564). Bersi travelled abroad with Grettir Ásmundarson, gained the favour of Sveinn jarl Hákonarson (ÍF 7, 86) and seemingly fought with Sveinn at the battle of Nesjar (1016; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume for rulers and battles of the period). He is listed in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 257, 258, 281, 282) as a skald to Sveinn and to Knútr inn ríki (Cnut the Great), but no court poetry for them by him survives (though see Bersi Ólfl 2). Some time after Nesjar he was taken captive by Óláfr Haraldsson, composed his flokkr (below) and found favour with the king. He is then named in the excerpts (articuli) from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga among Óláfr’s Icelandic hirðmenn ‘retainers’ (see his Lv below). He went on a pilgrimage to Rome with Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) and, learning of the king’s death (1030) as he left Rome, returned to S. Peter’s church in extreme anguish, died and was buried there (ÓH 1941, II, 830, in an interpolation).

Flokkr about Óláfr helgi — Bersi ÓlflI

Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, Flokkr about Óláfr helgi’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 790.

stanzas:  1   2   3 

Skj: Bersi Skáldtorfuson: 1. En flok om kong Olaf, o. 1020 (AI, 275-6, BI, 255)

SkP info: I, 791

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Bersi Ólfl 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, Flokkr about Óláfr helgi 1’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 791.

Hróðrs batt heilan líða
hagkennanda þenna,
en snarrœki slíku
svarat unnum vér gunnar.
Orð seldum þau elda
úthauðrs boða trauðir
knarrar hapts, sem keyptak,
kynstórs, at við brynju.

Batt {þenna hagkennanda hróðrs} líða heilan, en vér unnum svarat slíku {snarrœki gunnar}. Trauðir hapts seldum þau orð {kynstórs boða {elda {úthauðrs knarrar}}}, sem keyptak at {við brynju}.

You bade {this skilled conveyor of praise} [POET = me] to fare well, and we [I] managed to reply in kind {to the keen cultivator of battle} [WARRIOR = you, Óláfr]. Reluctant for hindrance, we [I] sold those words {to the kin-mighty offerer {of the fires {of the outlying land of the ship}}} [SEA > GOLD > GENEROUS MAN = you, Óláfr] just as I had bought [them] from {the tree of the mail-shirt} [WARRIOR = you, Óláfr].

Mss: (253r) (Hkr); Holm2(13r), R686ˣ(26r), J1ˣ(159v), J2ˣ(135v), 325VI(11rb), 75a(1va), 73aˣ(35v), 78aˣ(33r), 68(12r), 61(84vb), Holm4(5ra), 325V(16va), 325VII(5r), Bb(135rb), Flat(83vb), Tóm(102v) (ÓH)

Readings: [1] Hróðrs: hróðr Holm2, Bb, ‘Horþar’ R686ˣ, ‘Hroðuss’ 325VI, ‘Hloðr’ 68;    batt (‘baðtu’): bað R686ˣ, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 68, 61, 325V, Flat, Tóm, bar 325VII;    líða: borða Tóm    [2] ‑kennanda: ‑kennandi Holm2, 325V, Bb, ‘kennannanda’ Flat    [3] snarrœki: so J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, Holm4, Bb, snarreki Kˣ, ‘snarøki’ Holm2, snarlæti 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ, snar rœkinn 61, sjá rekkr of 325V, svanbræði 325VII, ‘suarræde’ Flat, svaraði Tóm;    slíku: ‘slito’ R686ˣ    [4] svarat unnum: ‘svartvnno’ 68, ‘suarann unn’ 325VII;    svarat: svarar 325V;    unnum: unnu 73aˣ, 61, Holm4, Bb    [5] Orð: auð 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ;    seldum: héldum við Tóm;    þau: vér Holm2, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 325VI, 75a, 78aˣ    [6] úthauðrs: úthauðs or úthauðrs Holm2, út haugs J1ˣ, úthaugs J2ˣ, ‘vravðs’ or ‘vtavðs’ 325VI, ‘ythavðs’ 75a, úthauðs 78aˣ, út hauðr 325VII, ‘vt hredrs’ Bb;    boða: blóða Bb, bjóða Tóm;    trauðir: rauða Tóm    [7] knarrar: knarrir J1ˣ, knarra Tóm;    hapts: ‘haptzt’ R686ˣ, ‘hap⸜d⸝z’ 325VI, ‘kaptz’ 78aˣ, happs 68, Flat, ‘kaps’ 325VII, hefsk Tóm;    keyptak (‘ec keypta’): keyptu 73aˣ    [8] ‑stórs: ‑stór 61, Holm4, 325VII, Flat, Tóm, ‘‑s(to)ra’(?) 325V;    at við: á vit 73aˣ, 68, 61, 325VII, Bb, Flat, Tóm, vítt 325V

Editions: Skj: Bersi Skáldtorfuson, 1. En flok om kong Olaf 1: AI, 275-6, BI, 255, Skald I, 131, NN §684; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 73-4, IV, 123, ÍF 27, 65-6, Hkr 1991, I, 294-5 (ÓHHkr ch. 50); Fms 4, 101, Fms 12, 80, ÓH 1941, I, 95 (ch. 40), Flat 1860-8, II, 45.

Context: ÓH-Hkr describes how Bersi (not previously mentioned) is fighting in the fore-stem of Sveinn jarl’s ship in his battle at Nesjar against King Óláfr Haraldsson (1016). He is distinctive – handsome and well armed – and King Óláfr recognises him; they exchange shouted greetings. The three stanzas of Ólfl are then cited, with the explanation that Bersi composed a flokkr for Óláfr after he had come into his power and was sitting in fetters.

Notes: [6] boða ‘offerer’: This weak m. noun, and hence the warrior-kenning of which it is the base-word, is construed here as dat. sg., the indirect object of seldum ‘we [I] sold’ (l. 5). It could alternatively be gen. sg. qualifying þau orð (l. 5), hence ‘those words of the offerer ...’. — [6, 7] trauðir hapts ‘reluctant for hindrance’: Trauðir ‘reluctant’ is n. pl. qualifying vér ‘we [I]’, even though the reference is to the skald alone. (a) It is here construed, as in Skj B, with hapts, gen. sg. of hapt n., though this makes for a disjointed word order. The speaker’s reluctance must relate to the incident described retrospectively in the stanza, his exchange of greetings with King Óláfr, but the precise nature of the reluctance is uncertain. Hapt could mean ‘stasis, hindrance’ or ‘fetter’ (LP: hapt 1), perhaps referring to Bersi’s fear of being captured, which later materialised, or else to the rapidity with which he returned the king’s greeting (so Finnur Jónsson in Hkr 1893-1901, IV, translating uden tøven ‘without delay’). (b) Trauðir could stand alone, referring to the speaker’s reluctance to return the greeting, in which case hapts (which has clearly baffled some scribes) would appear to have its alternative sense ‘deity’ and to be part of the man-kenning in ll. 5-7. This is the analysis preferred by Kock (Skald and NN §684, followed in ÍF 27), reading boði elda úthauðrs hapts knarrar ‘offerer of the fires of the outer land of the deity of the ship [SEAFARER > SEA > GOLD > GENEROUS RULER]’. This departs from normal kenning usage in several ways, however. Although hapt knarrar ‘deity of the ship’ resembles a known pattern of kenning (see Meissner 278), such kennings denote ‘man’ rather than specifically ‘seafarer’, and even if ‘seafarer’ is correct there do not appear to be other sea-kennings on the pattern ‘land of the seafarer’. ‘Sea’ is normally determined by names of sea-kings or maritime terms of various sorts, not by words for sailors (Meissner 95-7). Further, hapt is not otherwise recorded as a base-word, and when used in the sense ‘gods’ it is normally pl.

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