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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 25 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, 43

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

11 — Bragi Rdr 11III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 11’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 43.

Ok fyr hǫnd í holmi
Hveðru brynju Viðris
fengeyðandi fljóða
fordæða nam ráða.
Allr gekk herr und hurðir
Hjarranda framm kyrrar
reiðr af Reifnis skeiði
ráðalfs af mar brôðum.

Ok {fengeyðandi fordæða fljóða} nam ráða í holmi fyr hǫnd {Viðris {Hveðru brynju}}. Allr herr {ráðalfs} gekk framm brôðum reiðr af {skeiði Reifnis}, af mar, und {kyrrar hurðir Hjarranda}.

And {the booty-destroying evil-doer among women} [= Hildr] took control on the island on behalf of {the Viðrir <= Óðinn> {of the Hveðra <troll-woman> of the mail-coat}} [AXE > WARRIOR = Hǫgni]. All the army {of the control-elf} [RULER = Hǫgni (?)] went forward quickly, enraged, from {the ground of Reifnir <sea-king>} [SEA], from the sea, beneath {unwavering hurdles of Hjarrandi <= Óðinn>} [SHIELDS].

Mss: R(35r), Tˣ(36r-v), W(79) (SnE)

Readings: [5] hurðir: so all others, ‘hvr[…]’ R    [7] af: at all    [8] ‑alfs: ‑alfr all;    af: so all others, of R

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 11: AI, 3, BI, 3, Skald I, 2, NN §§217, 2205E; SnE 1848-87, I, 438-9, III, 86, SnE 1931, 155, SnE 1998, I, 73.

Context: As for st. 8. However, in all three mss this stanza follows what is presented here as the refrain and numbered st. 12. The ms. ordering is odd, if the refrain was intended to conclude Bragi’s presentation of the Hildr legend, in parallel with the four stanzas plus refrain that Rdr devoted to the Jǫrmunrekkr legend. It is possible that Bragi’s narrative of the Hildr legend was longer than four stanzas.

Notes: [1-4]: In the first helmingr, it is stated that Hildr nam ráða ‘took control’ (l. 4) on the island where the fight took place; the issues here turn on whether she took control ‘on behalf of’ a particular warrior (so Skj B, also here) or ‘instead of’ a warrior (so SnE 1998, II, 123) and, in either case, of which warrior? In the present instance the warrior in question is presumed to have been her father Hǫgni, but a case could also be made for Heðinn. — [1] fyr hǫnd ‘on behalf of’: Understood here to take the gen. case of the person on whose behalf something is done (so SnE 1998, II, 327-8), represented by the kenning Viðris Hveðru brynju ‘the Viðrir <= Óðinn> of the Hveðra <troll-woman> of the mail-coat [BATTLE-AXE > WARRIOR]’. — [1] í holmi ‘on the island’: If Bragi knew the same version of the legend as Snorri, this must be the Orkney island of Hoy (ON Háey). Other versions of the legend also involve fighting on an island; cf. Saxo’s Hithinsø (Saxo 2005, I, 5. 9, 1, p. 342), probably Hiddensee off Rügen in the Baltic Sea. — [2] Hveðru brynju ‘of the Hveðra <troll-woman> of the mail-coat [AXE]’: The pers. n. Hveðra appears in Þul Trollkvenna 2/7. Kennings for ‘axe’ frequently use base-words for giantesses or troll-women (cf. Meissner 147-8). — [3-4] fengeyðandi fordæða fljóða ‘the booty-destroying evil-doer among women [= Hildr]’: Considered here to be a direct reference, via the hap. leg. adj. fengeyðandi ‘booty-destroying’, to Hildr’s practice of destroying the usual fengr ‘booty’ to be found on the field of battle, that is, dead men and their possessions, by reviving the fighters every evening. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; LP: fengeyðandi) understands feng to be synonymous with gagn ‘victory (in battle)’, meaning that Hildr prevents both sides from winning the fight by reviving the dead. The noun fordæða has strong connotations of the kinds of sorcery thought to have been practised by women in early Scandinavia (cf. LP, Fritzner: fordæða). — [5-8]: There are several ways of construing this helmingr and ll. 7-8, in particular, are difficult, requiring two emendations. — [5, 8] allr herr ráðalfs ‘all the army of the control-elf [RULER = Hǫgni (?)]’: All mss’ ráðalfr (nom.) (l. 8)  has been emended to ráðalfs (gen.) and construed with ‘all the army’ (l. 5) to give a ruler-kenning whose referent is probably Hǫgni, the likely referent of the warrior-kenning in the first helmingr. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) emends to raðaralfs, deriving the first element of the cpd from rǫð ‘ship’, a noun only attested in Þul Skipa 2/7. Kock (cf. NN §217) also emends <r> to <s>, but understands the cpd noun as raðalfr ‘ship-elf’, ‘seafarer’, also deriving the first element from rǫð ‘ship’, but this is not possible because such a cpd would resolve in initial position and create a hypometrical line. — [5-6] und kyrrar hurðir Hjarranda ‘beneath unwavering hurdles of Hjarrandi <= Óðinn> [SHIELDS]’: Lit. ‘beneath quiet hurdles of Hjarrandi’. In itself this kenning is unexceptional, and there are several others of this type in the corpus, where a shield is referred to as a ‘door’ (or similar) of Óðinn (cf. Meissner 167). There is also no doubt that the name Hjarrandi occurs as an Óðinn-heiti (Þul Óðins 4/5). The difficulty is that in several versions of the Hildr legend a figure named Hjarrandi (or the cognate form in other languages, such as OE Heorrenda, MHG Hôrant) plays a role in the narrative. In Snorri’s prose, too, Heðinn is named Hjarrandason, but this may be a rationalisation of something he did not understand in Bragi’s poem. The most important Old Norse witness here is RvHbreiðm Hl 45-6 which uses the question-and-answer form greppaminni ‘poets’ reminder’ to refer to the Hildr legend. There (st. 46/4, 8) we find the question hverr eggjaði styrjar? ‘who instigated the strife?’ and the answer Hjarrandi réð gunni ‘Hjarrandi caused the battle’. It is uncertain whether this text supports the idea of a separate male figure who took a major role in stirring up the fighting or whether these statements allude to Óðinn’s (rather than Hildr’s) role in it. The fact that the pers. n. Hjarrandi must form part of a shield-kenning here and cannot therefore refer to another human participant in the fight strongly suggests that the idea of a separate figure named Hjarrandi, whether father to Heðinn or in some other role, is probably secondary to the legend, at least in its Scandinavian versions, and may have developed out of an original role for Óðinn alongside Hildr as inciter of hostility. While it would be possible grammatically for Hjarranda (l. 6) to be construed with allr herr ‘all the army’ (l. 5), that would leave the kenning base-words kyrrar hurðir ‘unwavering hurdles’ (ll. 5, 6) without a determinant. — [7] af skeiði Reifnis ‘from the ground of Reifnir <sea-king> [SEA]’: All mss read at (emended here, as in Skj and SnE 1998, to af). Kock (NN §217) tried to make sense of at Reifnis skeiði in the sense ‘close by the sea’, i.e. ‘along the shore’, but most eds have emended to af Reifnis skeiði ‘from the ground of Reifnir <sea-king> [SEA]’, which makes better sense with the idea of one army advancing from its ships towards the other. — [8]: Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) emended l. 8 to raðaralfs mari brôðum, deleting the second word af and changing mar to mari. Finnur took raðaralfs with allr herr ‘all the army’ (l. 5), as in Note to ll. 5, 8 above, in the sense søkrigerens hele hær ‘the sea-warrior’s whole army’ and then construed af skeiðibrôðum mari Reifnis as fra det hurtigløbende skib ‘from the fast-running ship’, understanding skeiðibrôðum (by tmesis from l. 7) as ‘swift in sailing’ and marr Reifnis ‘Reifnir’s <sea-king’s> horse’ as a ship-kenning.

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