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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 22 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 dró frá Gylfa, glǫð, {djúprǫðul ǫðla}, {auka Danmarkar}, svát rauk af rennirauknum. Øxn bôru {átta ennitungl} ok fjǫgur haufuð, þars gingu fyr {víðri valrauf vinjeyjar}.

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].

Mss: R(1v), Tˣ(2r), W(8) (SnE); Kˣ(10r), F(2ra), J2ˣ(4v-5r) (Hkr)

Readings: [2] ‑rǫðul: ‑rǫðuls F    [4] rauk: raukn F;    auka: hauka with ‘[auka]’ written in right margin in scribal hand Kˣ    [7] vinjeyjar: vineyjar R, Kˣ, F, J2ˣ, ‘vineydiar’ Tˣ, ‘vinæyia’ W    [8] ‑rauf: ‘rof’ W;    haufuð: ‘hofod’ Tˣ, ‘hofut’ F

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).

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.

Notes: [1] Gefjun: In Gylf (SnE 2005, 7) as well as in Yng, the name of one of the ‘historical’ Æsir from Troy, but elsewhere an ásynja ‘goddess’ (cf. SnE 2005, 29, Lok 19-21 and Þul Ásynja 1/5 and Note). — [1] Gylfa ‘Gylfi’: In the Prologue to SnE and in Gylf (SnE 2005, 6, 7), name of a legendary Swedish king, but elsewhere name of a sea-king (Þul Sækonunga 1/8 and Note), and found in kennings for ships or the sea (Þór Lv 1/5I, Anon Óldr 23/6I, Anon Pl 35/5VII). — [2] djúprǫðul ǫðla ‘a deep disk of inherited land [ISLAND = Sjælland]’: (a) Understood here as a kenning for Gylfi’s patrimony of Swedish land, which Gefjun and her oxen plough away from him to form the island of Sjælland. Djúprǫðull ‘deep disk’ is a hap. leg., the word rǫðull normally denoting the sun or other round heavenly body. Ǫðli, with the sense ‘patrimony, origin’ occurs in two eddic poems, Lok 43/1 and Hárb 9/3. (b) The cpd may also be construed as a f. adj., in apposition to Gefjun, meaning ‘deeply calculating’ or ‘deeply wise’, ‑rǫðull then being related to ráða ‘advise’ (cf. Genzmer 1932; Marold 1983, 83-4). (c) Finnur Jónsson, adopting F’s reading -rǫðuls (gen. sg.), takes glǫð djúprǫðuls to mean glad ved guldet ‘glad at the gold’ (Skj B construing djúprǫðuls as a kenning ‘sun of the deep’ for gold) or ‘shining with gold’ (Finnur Jónsson 1930-1, 251). (d) Another interpretation, proposed by Holtsmark (1944) and followed by Frank (1978, 108-10), argued for ‘wheel’ as the sense of ‑rǫðull, and construed [renniraukn] djúprǫðuls óðla ‘[the swift-moving draught animals] of the deep wheel of the earth [PLOUGH]’ to refer to the deeply penetrating wheel of the heavy plough (as contrasted with the arðr, a simpler, more superficial type of plough), supposedly a technological innovation introduced into Scandinavia c. C9th. Archaeological evidence for such a theory is equivocal at best (cf. Steensberg 1936; Fowler 2002, 182-204, especially 203-4). Ǫðla, gen. sg. of ǫðli, øðli (later eðli) ‘inherited land’, is sometimes emended to the unattested *óðla ‘quickly’ (so Skj B) or the mss’ readings are interpreted as *auðla ‘fruitfully’ (so Skald) or *œðla, understood as lønn for erotisk oppflamming ‘reward for erotic arousal’ (Kiil 1965, 68), the latter alluding to Gefjun’s supposed role as a ritual prostitute in her encounter with Gylfi. — [4] rauk ‘steam rose’: Lit. ‘it steamed’. — [4] auka Danmarkar ‘Danmark’s addition [= Sjælland]’: Construed here as a kenning with a specific referent. The use of the p. n. Danmǫrk is probably the earliest attestation in Old Norse, slightly earlier than the inscription in Jelling 1 (DR 41, DK SJy 10), c. 940-55, and at least a century earlier than that on the Karlevi stone (Run Öl 1VI). — [7] vinjeyjar ‘of the meadow-island’: A rare use of the noun vin ‘meadow’, otherwise only found in Old Norse compounds denoting tax payable on farm products and in Norwegian place names (cf. AEW: vin). For the archaic form vinjeyjar (rather than the later vineyjar), see Note to Bragi Rdr 2/3-4. — [8] valrauf ‘plunder-rift’: The first element of this cpd, val-, is understood as from valr ‘the slain on the battlefield’, thus ‘spoil, plunder (from the slain)’. Some eds (so Skj B) have emended to vall- and understood the element to derive from vǫllr ‘plain, field’. — [8] haufuð ‘heads’: The rare form haufuð ‘head’ (cf. Goth. haubiþ, OE heafod) beside the commoner hǫfuð is confirmed by aðalhending with -rauf; see ANG §98.1 and cf. Bragi Rdr 4/8.

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated