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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, 792

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Bersi Ólfl 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, Flokkr about Óláfr helgi 2’ 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. 792.

Sveins raunir hefk sénar,
snart rekninga bjartar
þars svaltungur sungu,
— saman fórum vér — stórar.
Elgs munk eigi fylgja
út riðboða síðan
hæsts at hverjum kosti
hranna dýrra manni.


I have seen the great trials of Sveinn, where {bright, cool tongues of swords} [SWORD BLADES] sang keenly; we advanced together. I will not afterwards follow on expeditions a more excellent man, {a riding offerer {of the tallest elk of the waves}}, [SHIP > SEAFARER] in any case.

context: This follows Ólfl 1 (see Context), with no intervening words.

notes: [5-8]: The overall sense is clearly that the speaker will never campaign with a nobler lord (fylgja út dýrra manni), and there appears to be a man-kenning involving boða ‘offerer’ as a base-word (matching that in st. 1/6) and a ship-kenning formed from hranna ‘of waves’ plus elgs ‘elk’ (l. 5) or hests ‘horse’ (l. 7, , Holm4). Beyond that the helmingr is problematic especially because of the presence in the majority readings of two animal terms, elg- ‘elk’ and hest- ‘horse’ (both largely guaranteed by the metre), and because the identity of hríð- or rið- in l. 6 is uncertain. (a) In the solution tentatively proposed above, the reading hæst ‘tallest, highest’ in l. 7 found in J, 325VI and 325VII is emended to gen. sg. hæsts (encouraged by hests in and Holm4) and understood to qualiy elgs ‘of the elk’. ‘Rið-’ in most mss in l. 6 is taken as a verbal prefix meaning ‘riding’ or ‘swinging, swaying’ (cf. riðmarar ‘riding horses’ in a ship-kenning in Tindr Hákdr 1/7). Hence riðboða hæsts elgs hranna is ‘riding offerer of the tallest elk of the waves [SHIP > SEAFARER]’. Retaining -boða gives a dat. sg. governed by fylgja ‘follow’ in apposition to manni ‘man’. The rhyme of short vowel on long in rið- : síð- would be paralleled in Bersi 1/7 hapts : keyptak. (b) The overload of kenning elements can alternatively be resolved by assuming two separate kennings, and one way of doing this underlies Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson’s solution in ÍF 27, followed in Hkr 1991. He takes hests hranna ‘horse of the waves [SHIP]’ as an adverbial gen. of place, i.e. ‘on a ship, by ship’, expanding on út ‘out (on expeditions)’ (Bjarni cites NS §141; cf. also Poole 2004). Elgs is read as an Óðinn-heiti, for which Bjarni cites an interpretation of Egill St 15V (Eg 86) and an interpretation of the present line in ÍF 2, 252 n. Hence Elgs hríðboða is ‘offerer of Óðinn’s storm [(lit. ‘Óðinn’s storm-offerer’) BATTLE > WARRIOR]’, taken in apposition to dýrra manni ‘a man more excellent’. The overall construal is thus Munk eigi fylgja út síðan hranna hests Elgs hríðboða, dýrra manni, which (replacing the kennings by their referents) would translate: ‘I will not afterwards follow on expeditions by ship a warrior, a man more excellent [than Sveinn]’. This has the advantage of requiring no emendation, but it does demand of the audience that they would apprehend elgs in an unusual sense and hranna hests in an unusual syntactic function. (c) Another construal also assumes two kennings but in a different configuration: hríðboði elgs read as boði elgs hríðar ‘offerer of the elk of the sea [SHIP > GENEROUS RULER]’ (paralleled in Anon Óldr 17/3), with emendation of boða to boði in order to supply an apostrophe, and with manni hests hranna ‘man of the horse of the waves’, hence ‘seafarer’ or ‘ship’s champion’, understood as the object of fylgja ‘follow’. This is the solution proposed by Kock in NN §686B, C. However, confidence in the latter construction depends on one’s confidence in Kock’s claimed parallels, and a bare manni seems stylistically more likely. Further, none of the numerous mss has boði, and although hríð can mean ‘sea’ (Þul Sjóvar 2/3III; LP: hríð 4), it much more frequently refers to ‘storm’ or ‘(phase in a) battle’. (d) Finnur Jónsson in Skj B (developing an idea already mooted in Hkr 1893-1901, IV) makes two small emendations: of elgs to elds in l. 5, and of -boða to -boði in l. 6, to produce hranna hests elds hríðboði ‘offerer of the storm of the fire of the horse of the waves [(lit. ‘storm-offerer of the fire of the horse of the waves’) SHIP > SHIELD > BATTLE > WARRIOR]’. However, there are numerous objections to this, as noted by Kock (NN §686A): the emendation to elds is against all mss; it destroys a perfectly good rhyme; and it assumes that ‘fire of the ship’ can mean ‘shield’, something that Finnur himself presents with caution in LP: hríðboði. (e) Some of these problems are obviated by emending elgs instead to olgs ‘fire’ (LP, AEW: olgr; Þul Elds 3/1III), hence hríðboða olgs hests hranna ‘offerer of the storm of the fire of the horse of the wave [(lit. ‘storm-offerer of the fire of the horse of the waves’) SHIP > SHIELD > BATTLE > WARRIOR]’.

texts: Flat 460, ÓH 52 (50), ÓHHkr 47 (II 47), Hkr 248 (II 47)

editions: Skj Bersi Skáldtorfuson: 1. En flok om kong Olaf 2 (AI, 276; BI, 255); Skald I, 131, NN §§685, 686, 2008F; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 74, IV, 123-4, ÍF 27, 66, Hkr 1991, I, 295 (ÓHHkr ch. 50); Fms 4, 102, Fms 12, 80, ÓH 1941, I, 95-6 (ch. 40), Flat 1860-8, II, 45.


AM 36 folx (Kx) 253r, 15 - 253r, 22 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
Holm perg 2 4° (Holm2) 13r, 8 - 13r, 10 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  
UppsUB R 686x (R686x) 26r, 7 - 26r, 11 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 37 folx (J1x) 159v, 18 - 159v, 21 (ÓH)  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 135v, 26 - 136r, 2 (ÓH)  image  
Thott 972 folx (972x) 88va, 13 - 88va, 20 (ÓH)  image  image  
AM 325 VI 4° (325VI) 11rb, 26 - 11rb, 29 (ÓH)  image  
AM 75 a fol (75a) 1vb, 2 - 1vb, 7 (ÓH)  image  
AM 321 4°x (321x) 54, 24 - 54, 26 (ÓH)  transcr.  
AM 68 fol (68) 12r, 17 - 12r, 17 (ÓH)  image  
AM 61 fol (61) 84vb, 33 - 84vb, 36 (ÓH)  transcr.  image  image  
Holm perg 4 4° (Holm4) 5ra, 18 - 5ra, 21 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 V 4° (325V) 16va, 22 - 16va, 27 (ÓH)  image  
AM 325 VII 4° (325VII) 5r, 37 - 5r, 39 (ÓH)  image  
Holm perg 1 fol (Bb) 135va, 3 - 135va, 3 (ÓH)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 83vb, 20 - 83vb, 23 (ÓH)  image  image  image  
GKS 1008 fol (Tóm) 102v, 9 - 102v, 9 [1-2, 6-8] (ÓH)  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated