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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

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

3. Fragments (Frag) - 6

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).

Fragments — Bragi FragIII

Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘ Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 53. <> (accessed 18 January 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6 

Skj: Bragi enn gamli: 2. Ubestemmelige vers (AI, 4, BI, 4-5); stanzas (if different): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

SkP info: III, 54

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Bragi Frag 1III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments 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. 54.

This stanza (Bragi Frag 1) is extant at the end of the first paragraph of Gylf in the R, and W redactions of SnE and in Yng in Hkr (ÍF 26, 15-16) in the mss , F, and J2ˣ. Ms. R is used here as the base ms. The stanza is explicitly attributed to Bragi in both sources; in SnE it is introduced by Svá segir Bragi skáld gamli ‘Thus says the poet Bragi the Old’, in Yng by Svá kvað Bragi inn gamli ‘Thus spoke Bragi the Old’.

Previous editors have considered this dróttkvætt stanza to be a part of Ragnarsdrápa (see Introduction to Bragi Rdr), but, though that is possible, there is no sure evidence that it was (there is, e.g., no stef and no attribution to Rdr in the prose introductions in either source). It is here presented more conservatively as a fragment of a descriptive mythological poem, along with several other fragments ascribed to Bragi.

The myth of Gefjun’s encounter with the Swedish king Gylfi and the origin of the Danish island of Sjælland as a large piece of land her oxen (her sons by a giant) ploughed away from Sweden is not known from any other Old Norse text, aside from SnE and Yng and this stanza of Bragi’s, nor is it known from extant medieval pictorial representations.

It is uncertain whether Bragi’s stanza is self-contained or part of a larger whole. It encapsulates the whole myth, emphasising Gefjun’s happy mental state, the richness of her booty, and the brute strength and effort of the oxen, who pull Sjælland (‘Denmark’s increase’) to its new location. This early reference to Denmark, apparently considered as a political and territorial whole (cf. Finnur Jónsson 1930-1, 253), may be what persuaded Snorri Sturluson to give the myth such prominence in SnE and Yng, especially as it has resonance with other early European political foundation myths based on deceptive bargains, such as Dido’s foundation of Carthage and Hengest’s claim to territory in Britain (cf. Clunies Ross 1978a; Marold 1986b, 438-40). If Bragi treated this subject in more than one stanza, the one we have is very likely introductory, but the first line opens in medias res, with mention of both Gefjun and Gylfi.

Gefjun dró frá Gylfa
glǫð djúprǫðul ǫðla,
svát af rennirauknum
rauk, Danmarkar auka.
Bôru øxn ok átta
ennitungl, þars gingu
fyr vinjeyjar víðri
valrauf, fjǫgur haufuð.


Gefjun drew from Gylfi, glad, {a deep disk of inherited land}, [ISLAND = Sjælland] {Denmark’s addition}, [= Sjælland] so that steam rose from the swift-moving draught animals. The oxen bore {eight forehead-moons} [EYES] and four heads, where they went before {the wide plunder-rift of the meadow-island}. [= Sjælland]

context: In SnE this stanza is cited to confirm Snorri’s prose narrative of the deceptive bargain of Gefjun, a female member of the euhemerised Æsir from Troy, with King Gylfi of Sweden, who allowed her, as a reward for her entertainment (skemtun) of him, to obtain as much of Sweden as her four oxen could plough up in a day and a night. Unknown to Gylfi, these beasts were Gefjun’s sons by a giant, and she succeeded in ploughing up and removing across the sea a far larger piece of land than Gylfi had expected. It formed the Danish island of Sjælland (Zealand), and the gap it left behind in Sweden became Lake Mälaren, whose inlets are said in Gylf to correspond to the headlands of Sjælland. This etiological narrative forms a link with the Prologue, in which Gylfi is mentioned as reigning in Sweden when the Æsir migrate to Scandinavia from Troy, and motivates his visit to their hall in Gylf to find out the secret of their success. In Yng Gefjun’s visit to Gylfi is directed by Óðinn, who sends her north from Denmark to Sweden in search of land; Gylfi gave her eitt plógsland ‘one plough-land’. The deceptive bargain aspect of the myth is here suppressed. In Yng Gefjun marries Óðinn’s son Skjǫldr and thus becomes the consort of the progenitor of the Danish royal house, the Skjǫldungar.

texts: Gylf 1, LaufE 1 (190n), Yng 1 (I 1) (ch. 5), Hkr 1 (I 1), SnE 1

editions: Skj Bragi enn gamli: 1. Ragnarsdrápa 13 (AI, 3; BI, 3); Skald I, 2; SnE 1848-87, I, 32-3, SnE 1931, 8, SnE 2005, 7; ÍF 26, 15 (Yng ch. 5).


GKS 2367 4° (R) 1v, 20 - 1v, 22 (SnE)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Traj 1374x (Tx) 2r, 27 - 2r, 29 (SnE)  transcr.  image  
AM 242 fol (W) 8, 29 - 8, 31 (SnE)  transcr.  image  image  image  
AM 35 folx (Kx) 10r, 19 - 10r, 26 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  image  
AM 45 fol (F) 2ra, 14 - 2ra, 17 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  image  image  image  
AM 38 folx (J2x) 4v, 29 - 5r, 7 (Hkr)  transcr.  image  
AM 761 a 4°x (761ax) 50r, 2 - 50r, 9 (V)  image  
Holm papp 18 folx (papp18x) 3r, 9 - 3r, 11 (Hkr)  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated