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Runic Dictionary

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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

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

1. Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) - 12

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 29 September 2021)

stanzas:  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, 31

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — Bragi Rdr 3III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 3’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 31.

Knátti eðr við illan
Jǫrmunrekkr at vakna
með dreyrfáar dróttir
draum í sverða flaumi.
Rósta varð í ranni
Randvés hǫfuðniðja,
þás hrafnbláir hefndu
harma Erps of barmar.

Jǫrmunrekkr knátti eðr at vakna við illan draum með dreyrfáar dróttir í {flaumi sverða}. Rósta varð í ranni {hǫfuðniðja Randvés}, þás {hrafnbláir of barmar Erps} hefndu harma.

Jǫrmunrekkr then awakened with an evil dream among the blood-stained troops in {the eddy of swords} [BATTLE]. There was tumult in the hall {of the chief kinsmen of Randvér} [= the dynasty of the Goths], when {the raven-black brothers of Erpr} [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] avenged their injuries.

Mss: R(30v), Tˣ(32r), C(2r) (SnE); W(113) (FoGT)

Readings: [1] Knátti: ‘Knatt’ W;    eðr: áðr C, ørr W    [2] Jǫrmun‑: ermen‑ C, ermin‑ W    [3] dróttir: dóttur C    [5] Rósta: róstu C;    varð: vann C    [6] Randvés: randvérs C    [7] ‑bláir: so Tˣ, C, corrected from ‘blarir’ R, blám W    [8] of: um C, ok W;    barmar: barma W

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 3: AI, 1, BI, 1, Skald I, 1, NN §§1909A, 2507; SnE 1848-87, I, 370-3, II, 576, III, 59, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 50; SnE 1848-87, II, 208, FoGT 1884, 129, FoGT 2014, 14-17, 77-9.

Context: This stanza is preserved in two sources, the Skm section of SnE (R, , C) and FoGT (W). In Skm (SnE 1998, I, 50-1) the stanza is the first of a sequence of four stanzas and a stef, specifically ascribed to Rdr, and these stanzas are cited at the end of a long passage recounting various narratives about the legendary Niflungar and their descendants, among whom were the brothers Hamðir and Sǫrli. The Rdr stanzas are introduced thus: Eptir þessum sǫgum hafa flest skáld ort ok tekit ymsa þáttu. Bragi hinn gamli orti um fall Sǫrla ok Hamðis í drápu þeiri er hann orti um Ragnar loðbrók ‘Most poets have composed [poetry] based on these stories, and have used various parts [of them]. Bragi the Old composed about the death of Sǫrli and Hamðir in the drápa that he composed about Ragnarr loðbrók’. In FoGT (FoGT 1884, 129), which is only preserved in W, its anonymous author cites the stanza on its own as an example of the rhetorical figure of ekbasis, or digression, and introduces it with the words (normalised): Ebasis er af ganga efnisins, þá er skaldit reikar afvegis, sem Bragi skald gerði, þá er hann setti í þá drápu, er hann orti um Ragnar konung, þær vísur er segja um fall Sǫrla ok Hamðis sona Jónakrs konungs ok Guðrúnar Gjúkadóttur, er þeir fellu fyrir mǫnnum Erminreks konungs, ok er sjá vísa ein af þeimEkbasis is a departure from the subject-matter, when the poet drifts off course, as Bragi the poet did, when he inserted into the drápa that he composed about King Ragnarr, those stanzas that tell about the death of Sǫrli and Hamðir, sons of King Jónakr and Guðrún daughter of Gjúki, when they fell before the men of King Jǫrmunrekkr, and this stanza is one of them’.

Notes: [All]: The first of four stanzas in which Bragi depicts the vengeance carried out by the brothers Hamðir and Sǫrli, sons of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir and King Jónakr, upon the Gothic king Jǫrmunrekkr, the historical Ostrogothic ruler Ermanaric (d. 375 AD), because he had their sister, his wife Svanhildr, put to death for supposed adultery with his own son Randvér. The brothers attack Jǫrmunrekkr in his hall and maim him, but fail to kill him, whereupon the Goths turn upon Hamðir and Sǫrli, and kill them by pelting them with stones. This legend is also the subject of the eddic poem Hamð (see Dronke 1969, 159-242 for a comparison of this and other sources), which tells that Svanhildr was torn apart by wild horses and Randvér was hanged (Hamð 2-3, 17). Skm prefaces the citation of Bragi’s stanzas with a prose account of the legend (SnE 1998, I, 49-50). See Vǫls chs 41-4 (Vǫls 1965, 74-8) and Saxo 2005, I, 8, 10, 9-14, pp. 550-4, for other accounts. Finch (1993a) details the linking of this legend to the Vǫlsung-Niflung family, with which Ragnarr loðbrók was sometimes connected. For the historical record, see Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum gestarum libri qui supersunt XXXI, ch. 3 (Rolfe 1948-52, III, 394-6) and Jordanes, Getica (Mommsen 1882, ch. XXIV, §§129-30). Rdr reveals a somewhat anti-heroic attitude to its subject-matter, st. 3 beginning in medias res with Jǫrmunrekkr awakening from a drunken sleep to chaos in his own hall. — [1, 2, 4] knátti at vakna við illan draum ‘awakened with an evil dream’: An Old and Modern Icelandic idiom used of someone who awakes from sleep to a nightmarish reality over which he has no control (cf. Wood 1960b). Some scholars (e.g. Vogt 1930b, 3-5) maintain that Jǫrmunrekkr was asleep and woke from a bad dream. In Skm Guðrún advises the brothers to attack Jǫrmunrekkr at night while he is asleep. — [4] í flaumi sverða ‘in the eddy of swords [BATTLE]’: The base-word, flaumr ‘eddy, torrent’, of this battle-kenning connotes the flowing of blood as well as the melée of swords. — [5] rósta varð í ranni ‘there was tumult in the hall’: Cf. Hamð 23/1 (NK 272) Styrr varð í ranni ‘There was uproar in the hall’ and Old English Beowulf l. 1302a Hrēam wearð on Heorote ‘There was uproar in Heorot’ (Beowulf 2008, 45), formulaic introductions to the topic of a hall-fight. — [6] hǫfuðniðja Randvés ‘of the chief kinsmen of Randvér [= the dynasty of the Goths]’: Some scholars (so Skj B) consider this kenning to refer to Jǫrmunrekkr himself, the father of Randvér, believing that the pl. hǫfuðniðjar is intended to have a sg. referent. But there is no reason to abandon the pl. sense, which then denotes the Gothic royal house as a whole and its ancestral hall. — [7] hrafnbláir ‘raven-black’: Hamðir and Sǫrli were linked in Old Norse legend with the Niflungar, traditionally supposed to have been dark in colour (cf. ON nifl- ‘mist, darkness’ (only in compounds like Niflhel, part of the underworld), OHG nebul, OE nifol, Lat. nebula ‘fog, mist, cloud’). — [8] of barmar Erps ‘the brothers of Erpr [= Hamðir and Sǫrli]’: This kenning for Hamðir and Sǫrli depends upon a knowledge of the role played by a third brother, Erpr, in the lead-up to their attack on Jǫrmunrekkr. Erpr ‘the Dark-brown One’, the son of Jónakr by a different mother (inn sundrmœðri, Hamð 13/1, NK 271), offers to help his brothers kill Jǫrmunrekkr as an arm helps a leg, but his cryptically phrased offer is scornfully refused, Hamðir and Sǫrli killing him on the road. According to both Hamð and Skm, this fratricidal act means that they cannot succeed in killing Jǫrmunrekkr outright. Bragi’s use in this kenning of the poetic noun barmi, meaning a child fed at the same breast as another, is deeply ironic.

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