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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, 35

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

5 — Bragi Rdr 5III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 5’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 35.

Þar, svát gerðu gyrðan
golfhǫlkvis sá fylkis,
segls naglfara siglur
saums andvanar standa.
Urðu snemst ok Sǫrli
samráða þeir Hamðir
hǫrðum herðimýlum
Hergauts vinu barðir.

Þar, svát gerðu gyrðan {sá {golfhǫlkvis}} fylkis, standa {siglur {segls naglfara}}, andvanar saums. Þeir Sǫrli ok Hamðir urðu snemst barðir samráða {hǫrðum herðimýlum {vinu Hergauts}}.

There, so that they encircled {the vat {of the floor-steed}} [HOUSE > BED] of the ruler, {the masts {of the sail of the nail-studded one <ship’s planking>}} [SHIELD > WARRIORS], lacking nails, stand. Sǫrli and Hamðir were very soon pelted by common resolve {with hard shoulder-lumps {of the mistress of Hergautr <= Óðinn>}} [= Jǫrð (jǫrð ‘earth’) > STONES].

Mss: R(30v), Tˣ(32r), C(2r) (SnE)

Readings: [2] fylkis: so C, fylkir R, Tˣ    [4] andvanar: so Tˣ, C, ‘anvanar’ R    [7] hǫrðum: ‘halum’ C    [8] vinu: vinum C

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 5: AI, 2, BI, 2, Skald I, 1, NN §§1161, 1916B, 2720; SnE 1848-87, I, 372-3, II, 576, III, 60, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 51.

Context: See Context to st. 3. This stanza follows immediately upon Rdr 4 in three mss of SnE, R, and C.

Notes: [2] sá golfhǫlkvis ‘the vat of the floor-steed [HOUSE > BED]’: Some commentators (e.g. Dronke 1969, 211-12) have understood as the 3rd pers. pret. sg. of the verb sjá ‘see’, but this requires emendation of ‑hǫlkvis to ‑hǫlkvi and adoption of R’s and ’s fylkir ‘ruler’ as subject of the clause. A majority of scholars, including the present ed., understand as acc. sg. of sár m. ‘vessel, tub, vat’, forming the base-word of a tvíkent bed-kenning. Golfhǫlkvir ‘floor-steed’ is then a house-kenning (cf. Meissner 430-1), referring to Jǫrmunrekkr’s hall. Hǫlkvir occurs as a horse-heiti in several contexts (e.g. Akv 30/7, SnE 1998, I, 89, Anon Kálfv 4/5, where it refers to the hero Hǫgni’s horse). Kock (NN §1916) regards hǫlkvir as a ship-heiti, and it is possible that the word could have had both senses (AEW: hǫlkvir). Bed-kennings are uncommon in skaldic verse, and sár, with its probably mundane associations, is never used elsewhere in the corpus (see LP: sár). Bragi is likely to have chosen it at least partly a) for metrical reasons (Gade 1995a, 29-30); b) because it extends the metaphor of the verb gyrða ‘encircle’ (with a band or hoop); and c) because it connotes a vessel containing liquid, the implicit parallel being with Jǫrmunrekkr’s maimed and bleeding body, shorn of arms and legs. Marold (1994c, 569-71), however, sees the referent of sár as Jǫrmunrekkr’s sleeping chamber, formed from planks of wood. — [3-4] siglur segls naglfara, andvanar saums ‘the masts of the sail of the nail-studded one <ship’s planking> [SHIELD > WARRIORS], lacking nails’: The interpretation of this elaborate kenning has occasioned much debate (see Marold 1994c, 571-2 for a summary). Here it is understood that siglur ‘masts’ stands for a group of the Gothic warriors, who defend their injured leader by surrounding his bed. The phrase andvanar saums ‘lacking nails’ (saumr is a collective noun for ‘ship’s nails’) further defines what kind of ‘masts’ these are by indicating what they are not, i.e. they lack the kinds of nails that ships contain; they are mast-like, and so men. Bragi then extends the parallel between men and masts in a clever nýgerving when he calls the warriors ‘masts of the sail of the nail-studded one’, repeating his nautical and his nail analogy, with reference to naglfara < naglfari ‘something studded or decorated with nails’ (so Lie 1954). This cpd occurs in several other contexts: in þulur as a sword-heiti (Þul Sverða 8/4, SnE 1998, I, 120) or as a ship-heiti (Þul Skipa 1/7, SnE 1998, I, 127); in the shield-kenning borð naglfara ‘board of the nail-studded one’ (Ggnæv Frag 1/2-3), where naglfari may refer either to a sword (so SnE 1998, II, 361) or a ship (so Marold 1994c, 574-5); as the name of the husband of Night in Gylf (SnE 2005, 13) and (probably connected by Snorri with nagl ‘nail’ of the body by popular etymology) as the name of the ship Naglfar or Naglfari in which a company of fire-giants and monsters travel to oppose the gods at Ragnarǫk (SnE 2005, 50). Opinion is divided on whether Bragi is using naglfari in this kenning as a sword- or a ship-heiti, but Marold’s (1994c, 572-7) advocacy of a reference to ship’s planking fits better with the nautical imagery of the kenning, and has been adopted here. Kock (NN §2720) proposed a different syntactical arrangement, siglur naglfara, andvanar saums segls ‘masts of the nail-studded one <sword>, lacking a sewn sail’, taking saumr as ‘sewing’ rather than ‘nail(s)’, a sense which it appears to have only in the pl. (cf. Fritzner: saumr 2). — [6] samráða ‘by common resolve’: The adv. (Finnur Jónsson 1930-1, 262) refers to the Gothic warriors, who stone Hamðir and Sǫrli, apparently (cf. st. 6 and Hamð 25) on Jǫrmunrekkr’s orders. Later sources (e.g. Saxo, Vǫls) represent Óðinn as initiating the stoning, but there is no evidence that Bragi alluded to this idea (contra Brady 1940 and Dronke 1969, 207-8) and it does not appear in SnE either.

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