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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

9th century; volume 3; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross;

1. Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) - 12

Skj info: Bragi enn gamli, Norsk skjald, omkr. 800-850. (AI, 1-5, BI, 1-5).

Skj poems:
1. Ragnarsdrápa
2. Ubestemmelige vers
3. Lausavísur

It is not possible to be precise about either the dates of Bragi Boddason’s (Bragi) floruit or about the details of his life. Some of the latter are almost certainly legendary (e.g. the narratives associated with Bragi Lv 1abIV, VIII and Bragi Troll), while his sobriquet inn gamli ‘the Old’ places him almost in prehistory, seen from an Icelandic viewpoint. Landnámabók (Ldn, ÍF 1, 82) mentions him as being associated by marriage with the family of Arinbjǫrn hersir from Firðir (Fjordane) in Western Norway, and Egils saga (Eg, ÍF 2, 182) places him in the same context. Ldn tells that Bragi’s wife was Lopthœna, daughter of another poet, Erpr lútandi ‘the Stooping’. Bragi seems to have been active as a poet in Norway one or two generations before the settlement of Iceland, hence c. 850-70. In Skáldatal’s list of poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 251, 259, 270), Bragi is the first named skald whose works have survived, at least in part. There he is associated with three patrons: Bjǫrn at Haugi, probably a Norwegian ruler, though some sources consider him Swedish (see Jón Jóhannesson 1940), Eysteinn beli and Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’, there said to be a Danish king who himself composed poetry. Snorri Sturluson (SnE 1998, I, 72-3) associates Bragi’s poem Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) with Ragnarr loðbrók, and he may be one and the same as the Ragnarr mentioned in Rdr’s refrain and ‘the son of Sigurðr’ referred to in Rdr 2/4. If Bragi’s patron Ragnarr is to be identified with the Viking leader who led an attack on Paris in 845, supposedly died in a snake-pit at the hands of King Ælla of Northumbria, and was the father of the Ingware and Ubba that the F version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims led raids on England in the 860s and 70s (de Vries 1928a; McTurk 1991a), then their association is just possible chronologically and geographically, as Ragnarr’s connections within Scandinavia were with Norway as well as with Denmark (Smyth 1977, 17-20).

Alongside information about Bragi the poet, Icelandic traditions also mention a god or supernatural being of this name (Grí 44/7, Lok, Sigrdr 16/2, SnE 2005, 25). In the frame narrative of Skm, Snorri Sturluson represents Bragi as the god who informs a curious sea-giant Ægir about the nature of skaldic diction. The connection between Bragi the poet and Bragi the god is uncertain, but it seems likely that Bragi Boddason’s iconic status as the first skald whose poetry survived into historical times contributed to the formation of the concept of a deity closely associated with the practice of skaldic verse in a courtly context (cf. Anon EirmI, Eyv HákI). Some scholars have linked Bragi and the origin of dróttkvætt with the influence of Irish poetry and culture, but their arguments are inconclusive (cf. Turville-Petre 1971; Kuhn 1983, 272-5; Sayers 1992).

Ragnarsdrápa (‘Drápa about Ragnarr’) — Bragi RdrIII

Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘ Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 27. <> (accessed 27 September 2021)

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12 

Skj: Bragi enn gamli: 1. Ragnarsdrápa (AI, 1-4, BI, 1-4); stanzas (if different): 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

SkP info: III, 28

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Bragi Rdr 1III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 1’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 28.

Vilið, Hrafnketill, heyra,
hvé hreingróit steini
Þrúðar skalk ok þengil
þjófs ilja blað leyfa?

Vilið, Hrafnketill, heyra, hvé skalk leyfa {blað ilja {þjófs Þrúðar}}, hreingróit steini, ok þengil?

Do you wish, Hrafnketill, to hear how I shall praise {the leaf of the footsoles {of the thief of Þrúðr <goddess>}} [= Hrungnir > SHIELD], bright-planted with colour, and the prince?

Mss: R(34r), Tˣ(35v), W(78), U(33r), A(11r-v), C(5v) (SnE)

Readings: [1] Vilið: ‘Vnit’ A;    Hrafnketill: ‘hrafnk[…]ll’ C;    heyra: ‘he[…]’ U    [2] hreingróit: ‘hrein grot’ Tˣ, ‘rein griotinn’ C    [3] Þrúðar: ‘þurdar’ C;    ok: om. W, U;    þengil: þengils U, þengill C

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 1: AI, 1, BI, 1, Skald I, 1; SnE 1848-87, I, 426-7, II, 329, 440, 589, III, 80,  SnE 1931, 152, SnE 1998, I, 69.

Context: This helmingr and Rdr 2 are cited in sequence in a section of Skm (SnE 1998, I, 69-70) exemplifying kennings for weapons and armour. They provide examples of shield-kennings. Rdr 1 is preceded by the statement Ilja blað Hrungnis, sem Bragi kvað ‘The footsoles’ leaf of Hrungnir, as Bragi said’.

Notes: [1] Hrafnketill: The unsyncopated, older form of the pers. n. Hrafnkell (cf. ANG §359.2) is required by metre and present in all mss. The poet addresses this man directly and urges him to listen to his poem, which is evidently about both a painted shield (see below) and an unnamed prince. Internal evidence thus indicates that this is an opening helmingr of a shield poem. However, if it forms part of the same poem as st. 2, which seemingly alludes to Ragnarr loðbrók, and if both belong to Rdr, then who is Hrafnketill? It is unusual for an early Viking-Age skald to address a messenger, who has arguably brought the shield from his patron to the poet (so Gísli Brynjúlfsson 1860, 5; CPB II, 2; cf. Wood 1960a) in his opening stanza, rather than the patron himself, although this remains a possibility and presupposes either oral memorisation of the poem or a written text inscribed on a rune stick. There is early Viking-Age evidence for the use of runic message sticks from both Hedeby and Staraja Ladoga (cf. Liestøl 1971) and the missionary Ansgar, after a visit to Birka in 831, is said to have delivered a letter from the Swedish king, possibly in runes, to the Emperor Louis the Pious (Trillmich, Buchner and Scior 2000, 42). Another view (Marold 1986b, 445-6) is that Bragi and Hrafnketill are rival poets engaged in some form of competition. This idea is dependent upon the mention of a certain ‘Brahi’ and ‘Rankil’ in Saxo Grammaticus’s account of the battle of Brávellir (Saxo 2015, I, viii. 3. 10, pp. 540-1), where they are named as being among the Icelandic supporters of King Sigurðr hringr ‘Ring’ (see Note to st. 2/4). — [2] hreingróit steini ‘bright-planted with colour’: Bragi’s shield-kenning (see Note to ll. 3, 4 below) is elaborated by means of this adjectival phrase, which qualifies blað ‘leaf’ (l. 4). There is a pun on the noun steinn, which means both ‘stone’ and ‘mineral colour, paint’ (cf. LP: steinn), and points both in the direction of the Hrungnir myth (see below) and towards the immediate object of the poet’s gaze, the brightly painted shield covered with images of myths and legends, which he is about to turn into literary capital. The sense of gróa (p. p. gróit) ‘grow, cover with growth’ nicely carries through the image of the shield as a leaf (blað) in a clever nýgerving that plays on the antithesis between the animate and inanimate poles of the kenning. On Bragi’s use of nýgervingar, see Marold (1993b, 297-9). — [3, 4] blað ilja þjófs Þrúðar ‘the leaf of the footsoles of the thief of Þrúðr <goddess> [= Hrungnir > SHIELD]’: Skm’s commentary indicates that ‘the thief of Þrúðr’ (lit. ‘strength’) refers to the giant Hrungnir, who is the god Þórr’s antagonist in a myth narrated in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 20-2), which is also one subject of another shield-poem, Þjóð Haustl sts 14-20 (SnE 1998, I, 22-4). This myth tells how Hrungnir was persuaded to stand on his shield, which was made of stone, because, he was informed, Þórr was going to attack him from underground. Þrúðr is the name of Þórr’s daughter, so it seems that Hrungnir may have abducted her from her father. Although no telling of Hrungnir’s theft of Þrúðr has survived (but see Alv 2 for a possible allusion; Clunies Ross 1994a; Frank 1978, 113-14), the kenning requires us to understand that such a myth existed, which may in one version have motivated Þórr’s and Hrungnir’s single combat.

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