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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bersi Skáld-Torfuson (Bersi)

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

2. Lausavísa (Lv) - 1

Skj info: Bersi Skáldtorfuson, Islandsk skjald, d. 1030. (AI, 275-7, BI, 255-6).

Skj poems:
1. En flok om kong Olaf
2. Lausavísa

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).

Lausavísa — Bersi LvI

Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, Lausavísa’ 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. 795.


Skj: Bersi Skáldtorfuson: 2. Lausavísa, o. 1025 (AI, 277, BI, 256); stanzas (if different): [v]

SkP info: I, 796

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Bersi Lv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, Lausavísa 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. 796.

Sverð standa þar — sunda
sárs leyfum vér árar —
— herstillis verðr hylli
hollust — búin golli.
Við tœka ek, — víka,
vask endr með þér, sendir
elds — ef eitthvert vildir,
allvaldr, gefa skaldi.

Sverð standa þar búin golli; vér leyfum {árar {sunda sárs}}; hylli {herstillis} verðr hollust. Ek tœka við, ef vildir, allvaldr, gefa skaldi eitthvert; vask endr með þér, {sendir {elds víka}}.

Swords stand there decorated with gold; we [I] praise {the oars {of the bays of the wound}} [BLOOD > SWORDS]; the favour {of the army-commander} [RULER] becomes most gracious. I would accept, if you wished, mighty ruler, to give the skald [Bersi] something; I was with you formerly, {distributor {of the fire of inlets}} [GOLD > GENEROUS MAN].

Mss: (420v), J2ˣ(202v) (Hkr); Holm2(54v-55r), 972ˣ(403va), 321ˣ(193), 73aˣ(166v), 68(52r), Holm4(49rb), 61(114ra), 75c(35v), 325V(62rb), Flat(116va), Tóm(142r) (ÓH); Flat(187rb) (Flat); DG8(91r) (ÓHLeg); NRA52(3r) (ÓHÆ)

Readings: [1] þar: hér 972ˣ, 73aˣ, 68, Tóm, Flat(187rb), DG8, NRA52    [1, 2] sunda sárs leyfum vér árar: ‘sund[...]’ 75c    [3, 4] herstillis verðr hylli hollust: ‘[...]þ’ NRA52    [3] ‑stillis: ‑stilli Holm2, 61, ‘still’ with abbreviation mark 68;    verðr: þarf ek Holm2, 972ˣ, 321ˣ, Flat(187rb), DG8, væri 61    [4] hollust: ‘hellest’ 321ˣ, ‘bolluzt’ Tóm, ‘haull raud’ Flat(187rb), holl ráð DG8    [5] tœka ek: tœkum vér Tóm;    víka: víkja Tóm, ‘[...]a’ NRA52    [6] vask endr með þér sendir: ‘[...]’ 75c;    vask (‘var ec’): var Holm2, Flat(187rb), varð 321ˣ, vil ek 68, Flat(187rb), DG8, NRA52;    endr: enn 68, Flat(187rb), DG8, NRA52, endir Tóm;    sendir: kennir 68, Flat(187rb), DG8, NRA52    [7] elds: ‘el[...]’ 75c;    ef eitthvert vildir: ‘[...]ldir’ NRA52    [8] gefa: ‘ge[...]a’ NRA52;    skaldi: ‘skalld[...]’ 75c

Editions: Skj: Bersi Skáldtorfuson, 2. Lausavísa: AI, 277, BI, 256, Skald I, 132, NN §3070; Hkr 1893-1901, II, 383-4, IV, 150, ÍF 27, 296-7, Hkr 1991, II, 469 (ÓHHkr ch. 162); Fms 4, 378, Fms 12, 92, ÓH 1941, I, 459 (ch. 154), Flat 1860-8, II, 291; Fms 5, 233-4, Fms 12, 114, Flat 1860-8, III, 244, ÓH 1941, II, 690; ÓHLeg 1922, 57, ÓHLeg 1982, 132-3; ÓHÆ 1893, 7.


As noted above, the stanza is attributed to three different skalds. In ÓH-Hkr, Sigvatr is with King Óláfr when he visits the store of treasures he has assembled as Christmas gifts. Among these is a gold-decorated sword, which elicits the stanza from Sigvatr. The king gives him the sword, which becomes a source of envy. In ÓHÆ and ÓHLeg, a brief narrative explains that Óttarr uttered the stanza one day when present with King Óláfr in an upper room where there were many swords, hilts uppermost. After the stanza the king obliges with the gift of ‘the sword’ (suærðet). In Articulus 13 from Styrmir Kárason, interpolated into Flat (1860-8, III, 244), Bersi Skáld-Torfuson, ‘a good poet’, is slandered by others, who claim that he could not compose or recite anything not already recited. The king has a small room prepared with unsheathed swords and calls for Bersi, commissioning him to compose about the fact that the swords are upright (uppreist). Bersi does, and is given a fine sword.

Notes: [1] þar ‘there’: The variant hér ‘here’ is equally possible. — [4] hollust ‘most gracious’: The variants have a lexical element rather than the sup. ending ‑ust, and as the more complex readings may have more claim to authenticity. The readings in NRA52 and DG8 seem to point to hollrð ‘benign-counsel(led)’, and though not recorded elsewhere hollráðr is a plausible cpd, the antonym of illráðr ‘bad-counselled’ and comparable to stórráðr ‘great-counselled’ and harðráðr ‘harsh-counselled’ (NN §3070); it is printed in Skald. The variant in Flat(187rb), ‘haull raud’, would partially support holl ‘gracious’ and rauðbúin (golli) ‘red-decorated (with gold)’, which are printed in Skj B. — [6] vask endr með þér, sendir ‘I was with you formerly, distributor’: Again, the alternative is satisfactory: vil ek enn með þér, kennir ‘I want to stay with you, trier (of gold)’.

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