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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 21 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, 33

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Bragi Rdr 4III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 4’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 33.

Flaut of set við sveita
sóknar alfs á golfi
hræva dǫgg, þars hǫggnar
hendr sem fœtr of kenndu.
Fell í blóði blandinn
brunn ǫlskakki — runna
þats á Leifa landa
laufi fátt — at haufði.

{Dǫgg hræva} flaut of set við sveita {alfs sóknar} á golfi, þars of kenndu hǫggnar hendr sem fœtr. {Ǫlskakki} fell at haufði í brunn blandinn blóði; þats fátt á {laufi {runna {landa Leifa}}}.

{Dew of corpses} [BLOOD] flowed over the bench together with the blood {of the elf of attack} [WARRIOR = Jǫrmunrekkr] on the floor, where people recognised hewn arms and legs. {The ale-dispenser} [RULER = Jǫrmunrekkr] fell head-first into a well mixed with blood; that is painted on {the leaf {of the trees {of the lands of Leifi <sea-king>}}} [SEA > SHIPS > SHIELD].

Mss: R(30v), Tˣ(32r), C(2r) (SnE)

Readings: [1] set: so all others, sétt R;    við: með Tˣ, C    [2] sóknar: sókna Tˣ;    alfs: so all others, afls R    [3] þars (‘þar er’): so C, of R, Tˣ    [4] sem: ok C;    kenndu: kenndusk C    [5] blandinn: brunninn R, brunnin Tˣ, blandin C    [6] ǫlskakki: ‘vaulspaci’ Tˣ, ‘aulskali’ C    [7] þats (‘þat er’): þann C    [8] laufi: ‘laufdi’ C;    fátt: fat Tˣ;    at: á C;    haufði (‘hꜹfþi’): hǫfði Tˣ, C

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 4: AI, 1-2, BI, 1, Skald I, 1, NN §§ 1003, 2205A, 2985A; SnE 1848-87, I, 372-3, II, 576, III, 59-60, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 51.

Context: This stanza follows immediately upon Rdr 3 in three mss of SnE, R, and C.

Notes: [1, 2] of set … á golfi ‘over the bench … on the floor’: The words set and golf denote two distinct parts of the early Scandinavian hall. Set was the raised area along the walls, where benches were set up for people to sit on and cleared at night for sleeping, whereas the golf was the central part of the hall floor, around the hearth. Bragi seems to imply that Hamðir and Sǫrli attacked Jǫrmunrekkr on the set (where he may have been asleep or drunk), and threw his limbs onto the golf where everyone could see them (cf. Hamð 24/7-10 and Saxo 2005, I, 8, 10, 14, pp. 552-5). Skj B and Skald emend all mss’ á golfi to í golfi, but this is not necessary to get good sense. — [4] of kenndu ‘people recognised’: This is the reading of R, , which has been adopted by Kock (Skald and NN §2205A), Dronke (1969, 205) and Faulkes (SnE 1998, I, 51). Ms. C’s m. v. form 3rd pers. pret. pl. kenndusk ‘were recognised’ is also possible, giving the sense þars hǫggnar hendr sem fœtr of kenndusk ‘where hewn arms and legs were recognised’ (so Skj B; Genzmer 1926, 132; Vogt 1930b, 21). — [5] blandinn (m. acc. sg.) ‘mixed, mingled’: It is necessary to emend (based on C’s blandin) to provide grammatical agreement with brunn m. acc. sg. ‘well’ in l. 6. — [6] ǫlskakki ‘the ale-dispenser [RULER = Jǫrmunrekkr]’: This hap. leg. cpd noun, which derives from R’s form ‘ꜹlskacki’ is understood here as a kenning for a ruler as dispenser of ale to his retinue. Faulkes (SnE 1998, II, 378-9) proposes a combination of ǫlskakki with runna (l. 6) as determinant (gen. pl. of runnr ‘bush, tree’), understood here as a half-kenning for ‘man’ or ‘warrior’. Kock (NN §1003) construes runna with at haufði (l. 8) to mean ‘at his warriors’ head’, but this seems an unlikely word order. In the present edn runna is construed with the following shield-kenning (see Note to ll. 7-8 below). Other interpretations of l. 6, such as that of Sophus Bugge (1876, 384) and Skj B, take C’s ‘aulskali’ and emend it to ǫlskála, gen. pl. of ǫlskál ‘ale-cup, drinking vessel’ (cf. Akv 34/1, Hamð 23/2), construing it with í brunn as ‘into the well of ale-cups’, referring to the spilt ale on the hall floor, mingled with blood. — [7-8] á laufi runna landa Leifa ‘on the leaf of the trees of the lands of Leifi <sea-king> [SEA > SHIPS > SHIELD]’: A three-part kenning for the shield, painted (or otherwise decorated) with a picture of the assault upon Jǫrmunrekkr that Bragi replicates in the word-picture of this stanza. Just as in st. 1, where a shield is compared to a leaf (blað), so here the comparison is with a bright, living thing, the leaf of the kind of tree that ‘grows’ in the lands of the sea-king Leifi, namely a Viking-Age ship, on which shields were hung in rows along the gunwale. In this kenning there is a metaphorical connection betweeṇ all three of its elements (cf. Meissner 171; Marold 1993b, 297-8). — [8] at haufði ‘head-first’: Lit. ‘on [his] head’. As the line is likely to contain an aðalhending, though these are irregular in Bragi’s poetry, the form with [au], based on R’s ‘hꜹfþi’, (rather than hǫfði from hǫfuð) is to be preferred, as in Bragi Frag 1/8 (see ANG §98.1).

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