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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson (Bjbp)

13th century; volume 1; ed. Jonna Louis-Jensen;

Jómsvíkingadrápa (Jóms) - 45

Skj info: Bjarni Kolbeinsson, Orknøsk biskop, d. 1222. (AII, 1-10, BII, 1-10).

Skj poems:

Bjarni Kolbeinsson (Bjbp) was born into a powerful family in the Orkney Islands, possibly c. 1150-60 (af Petersens, Jvs 1879, 122). His father was the Norwegian-Orcadian chieftain Kolbeinn hrúga ‘Heap’ and his mother was Herborg, a great-granddaughter of Páll jarl Þorfinnsson on the maternal side (see Ættaskrár [Genealogies] II in ÍF 35). Bjarni was also very well connected: he was a close friend of Haraldr jarl Maddaðarson (ÍF 35, 289), sent precious gifts to Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson in Iceland on three occasions (Guðrún P. Helgadóttir 1987, 2-3), and had connections with the Oddaverjar (see further Einar Ól. Sveinsson 1937, 17-18, 34-9).

Bjarni was Bishop of Orkney from 1188 (ÍF 35, 289) until his death on 15 September 1223. Among his achievements as bishop were the exhumation and canonisation of Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson (ÍF 35, 282; SkP II, 575) and the extension of St Magnús’s Cathedral in Kirkwall. Bjarni was also a diplomat and is known to have travelled to Norway for political reasons in 1194-5, 1208-9, 1210, 1218 and 1223 (see Bugge 1875, 244; Holtsmark 1937a, 2-3); he probably died in Norway (Jón Stefánsson 1907-8, 46).

Bjarni is introduced as Bjarni skáld ‘Poet’ in Orkn (ÍF 35, 193), but Jómsvíkingadrápa (Jóms) is the only literary work attributed to him in medieval sources. Suggestions that he compiled Orkn (Jón Stefánsson 1907-8) and the þulur in SnE (Bugge 1875) have not been generally accepted; see Introduction to Jóms below on the attribution of Anon Mhkv to Bjarni.

my abbr.

Jómsvíkingadrápa (‘Drápa about the Jómsvíkingar’) — Bjbp JómsI

Emily Lethbridge 2012, ‘ Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson, Jómsvíkingadrápa’ 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. 954. <> (accessed 1 July 2022)

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Skj: Bjarni Kolbeinsson: Jómsvíkingadrápa (AII, 1-10, BII, 1-10); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4

SkP info: I, 989

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

34 — Bjbp Jóms 34I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Emily Lethbridge (ed.) 2012, ‘Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson, Jómsvíkingadrápa 34’ 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. 989.

Þar lét Vígfúss verða
vegrœkinn Ásláki
— þann era þǫrf at segja
þátt — helfarar veittar.
Þorleifr of vann þjokkva
þrekstœrðum Hávarði
— hart vá hann með kylfu —
hǫggrammr brotit leggi.

Þar lét vegrœkinn Vígfúss helfarar verða veittar Ásláki; era þǫrf at segja þann þátt. Hǫggrammr Þorleifr of vann brotit þjokkva leggi þrekstœrðum Hávarði; hann vá hart með kylfu.

There, glory-cultivating Vígfúss caused the way to Hel to be granted to Áslákr; there is no need to relate that episode. Þorleifr, powerful with blows, broke the thick legs of the outstandingly strong Hávarðr; he fought hard with a club.

Mss: R(54r); 61(20rb), 53(16vb), 54(16va), Bb(27ra) (ÓT)

Readings: [3] segja: so 61, 53, 54, inna R, seggja Bb    [5] þjokkva: þykkva all others    [7] vá: so all others, lét R    [8] brotit leggi: so all others, ‘b(rotit legg)[...]’(?) R

Editions: Skj: Bjarni Kolbeinsson, Jómsvíkingadrápa 34: AII, 8, BII, 8, Skald II, 5; Fms 11, 172-3, Fms 12, 246, Jvs 1879, 114-15; Fms 1, 177, Fms 12, 44, ÓT 1958-2000, I, 194 (ch. 90), Ólafur Halldórsson 2000, 30, 82. 

Context: The men on Eiríkr jarl’s ship are named and some details about them provided; one is the exceptionally strong Vígfúss Víga-Glúmsson. When Vígfúss sees Áslákr hólmskalli killing many men, he takes up a sharp-pointed anvil in both hands and strikes Áslákr in the head with it, killing him. Simultaneously, Þorleifr skúma beats Hávarðr hǫggvandi with a club until he falls with badly broken bones.

Notes: [1, 4] lét ... helfarar verða veittar ‘caused the way to Hel to be granted’: That is, Vígfúss killed Áslákr. The cpd helfǫr (here acc. pl. ‑farar) is unique. In Old Norse heathen belief, Hel was the realm of the dead and the monstrous daughter of Loki who presided over it, and hence ‘death’ in general; see LP: 1. hel, Hel, and see Turville-Petre (1964, 270-2) on journeys to the world of the dead. It is not clear whether hel in the present context alludes to the heathen belief, or to the Christian Hell, or a more neutral concept of death. — [1] Vígfúss: The Icelander Vígfúss Víga-Glúmsson (Vígf); see his Biography. He fights on the Norwegian side at Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen), and is credited with Vígf Lv, which anticipates the battle. — [2] Ásláki ‘Áslákr’: A champion, nicknamed hólmskalli, on the side of the Jómsvíkingar; see Note to st. 13/5, 8. — [3] segja ‘relate’: The R reading inna ‘relate, perform’ works equally well in terms of sense, but it produces a skothending with vann in the odd line, which is not usual in Jóms; see Introduction. — [5] Þorleifr: The Icelander Þorleifr skúma Þorkelsson (Þskúm). The nickname skúma is obscure: see his Biography. Þorleifr fights for the Norwegians at Hjǫrungavágr and is credited with a fornyrðislag stanza (Þskúm Lv) in which he anticipates the damage his eikikylfa ‘oaken club’ will do to vikings and Danes. — [6] þrekstœrðum ‘outstandingly strong’: Lit. ‘strength-increased’. — [6] Hávarði ‘Hávarðr’: Another champion of the Jómsvíkingar; see Note to st. 13/5, 8. — [7] ‘fought’: The R reading lét could have arisen from a misunderstanding of the syntax. It would normally be an auxiliary meaning ‘caused’, with a p. p. or inf., and may have been taken with p. p. brotit ‘broken’ in l. 8, but this is governed by vann ‘caused, made’ in l. 5, hence vann brotit ‘broke’.

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