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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

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

1. Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) - 12

Skj info: Bragi enn gamli, Norsk skjald, omkr. 800-850. (AI, 1-5, BI, 1-5).

Skj poems:
1. Ragnarsdrápa
2. Ubestemmelige vers
3. Lausavísur

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 27 September 2021)

 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, 36

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

6 — Bragi Rdr 6III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 6’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 36.

Mjǫk lét stála støkkvir
styðja Gjúka niðja
flaums, þás fjǫrvi næma
Foglhildar mun vildu.
Ok bláserkjar birkis
ballfǫgr gǫtu allir
ennihǫgg ok eggjar
Jónakrs sonum launa.

{Støkkvir {flaums stála}} lét mjǫk styðja {niðja Gjúka}, þás vildu næma {mun Foglhildar} fjǫrvi. Ok allir launa {sonum Jónakrs} ballfǫgr ennihǫgg {birkis bláserkjar} ok {gǫtu eggjar}.

{The impeller {of the eddy of steel}} [BATTLE > WARRIOR = Jǫrmunrekkr] caused {the descendants of Gjúki <legendary king>} [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] to be greatly pressed, when they intended to deprive {the delight of Bird-hildr <= Svanhildr>} [= Jǫrmunrekkr] of life. And all repay {the sons of Jónakr <legendary king>} [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] for the powerfully splendid forehead blows {of the birch-branch of the dark shirt} [SWORD] and {the path of the sword-blade} [WOUND].

Mss: R(30v-31r), Tˣ(32r), C(2r) (SnE)

Readings: [1] Mjǫk: ‘Miott’ C    [3] flaums: glaums Tˣ;    fjǫrvi: fjǫlvi Tˣ;    næma: so C, náma R, Tˣ    [4] Fogl‑: so Tˣ, C, folg‑ R;    mun: ‘mon’ Tˣ;    vildu: vilda Tˣ    [5] ‑serkjar: so C, ‑serkjan R, ‑serkja Tˣ    [6] ball‑: so C, bǫll R, Tˣ;    gǫtu (‘gꜹtu’): gauta C    [8] Jónakrs: ‘onakurs’ C

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 1. Ragnarsdrápa 6: AI, 2, BI, 2, Skald I, 1, NN §§214, 215, 2002, 2985A; SnE 1848-87, I, 372-3, II, 576-7, III, 60-1, SnE 1931, 134, SnE 1998, I, 51.

Context: See Context to st. 3. This stanza follows immediately upon Rdr 5 in three mss of SnE, R, and C.

Notes: [1, 3] støkkvir flaums stála ‘the impeller of the eddy of steel [BATTLE > WARRIOR = Jǫrmunrekkr]’: If flaums ‘torrent, eddy’ (l. 3) is taken as part of a warrior-kenning, it is strictly unnecessary, as støkkvir stáls ‘the impeller of steel’ alone would suffice as a warrior-kenning. However, Bragi uses a similar kenning flaumr sverða ‘the eddy of swords [BATTLE]’ in st. 3/4, so the likelihood that this is a tvíkent kenning, with Jǫrmunrekkr as its referent, is increased. Other attempts to construe flaums with different parts of the first helmingr are all unsatisfactory (see Marold 1983, 71-3 for an assessment). — [2] styðja ‘to be pressed’: That is, to be hard pressed. An unusual sense of this verb, which normally means ‘support’. A similar sense, in which ‘support’ implies ‘prop up, rest sth. on sth. else’ is found in Vsp 21/3-4 (NK 2) er Gullveigo | geirom studdo ‘when they propped up Gullveig with spears’. — [2] niðja Gjúka ‘the descendants of Gjúki <legendary king> [= Hamðir and Sǫrli]’: Gjúki was the brothers’ maternal grandfather, being the father of their mother Guðrún and her brothers Gunnarr and Hǫgni. — [4] mun Foglhildar ‘the delight of Bird-hildr <= Svanhildr> [= Jǫrmunrekkr]’: Jǫrmunrekkr was married to Hamðir’s and Sǫrli’s sister Svanhildr. Bragi here plays on the way that svanr is used in kennings to represent ‘bird’ in general (LP: svanr). — [5-8]: These lines are difficult and a number of possible interpretations have been proposed. The basic sense of the helmingr is that the Goths, at Jǫrmunrekkr’s direction, repay (launa) Hamðir and Sǫrli for their attack upon their leader. (a) The interpretation adopted here follows most closely the view of Marold (1983, 73-5; cf. Finnur Jónsson 1930-1, 265-6) as being the best in terms of its attention to poetic syntax and the normal rules of kenning formation. Birki bláserkjar ‘birch-branch of the dark shirt (i.e. mail-shirt)’ is taken to belong to a pattern of sword-kenning in which the base-word is a twig or reed, or occasionally a specific tree species (cf. Meissner 152). (b) In Skj B Finnur Jónsson construed the second element of the cpd ballfagr (l. 6) as belonging to gǫtu and understood the presence of a kenning fagrgata bláserkjar birkis (see LP: fagrgata), sverdets lyse vej ‘the sword’s shining path [WOUND]’. He then understood a rather awkward intercalary clause comprising ennihǫgg ball ok eggjar (ll. 6, 7) with the verb ball ‘resounded’ (from bella) having a coordinate subject, pandehug rungede og sværdene lød ‘forehead blows rang and swords resounded’. (c) Kock (NN §§215, 2002) also took ennihǫgg ok eggjar together, understanding them as a coordinate object of launa ‘repay’, and in this he was followed by Faulkes (SnE 1998, II, 266, 343). For this interpretation to work, the noun hǫgg ‘blows’ must be understood with both enni- and eggjar-, as a kind of hendiadys, to give the following prose word order: ok allir launa sonum Jónakrs ballfǫgr (or bǫlfǫgr) ennihǫgg ok eggjar[hǫgg] birkis bláserkjar ‘and all repay the sons of Jónakr [= Hamðir and Sǫrli] for the powerfully shining (or ‘evilly shining’) forehead- and sword-blade blows of the birches of the dark shirt [WARRIORS = Hamðir and Sǫrli]’. The sense of the kenning birkis bláserkjar in this interpretation is unusual, and depends upon birki being understood as a collective noun ‘birches’, which can therefore stand for a group, or in this case, a pair, of warriors. In the interpretation proposed by Marold and adopted above birki is understood as an abstraction ‘something birch-like’ and so ‘birch branch/twig’ and the kenning birki bláserkjar ‘birch branch of the dark shirt (i.e. mail-shirt)’ may then be understood as a kenning for a sword. — [6] ballfǫgr ‘powerfully splendid’: Qualifies ennihǫgg n. pl. and is understood as a cpd formed from two adjectives ballr ‘bold, powerful’ and fagr ‘splendid, fair’. The word is written as a cpd in all mss. Both R and indicate the spelling bǫll-, while C has ball- (adopted here). Another possibility (but not indicated by the ms. spellings) is bǫl- ‘evil(ly)’ (cf. Faulkes, SnE 1998, II, 239). — [6] gǫtu (acc. sg.) ‘the path’: Combines with eggjar ‘of the sword blade’ (l. 7) to form a kenning for a wound. Skald (NN §215) understands the mss’ readings as gôtu (3rd pers. pl. pret. indic. of geta as auxilliary plus the inf. launa) in the sense ‘managed to repay’, but this is unlikely on palaeographical grounds (cf. SnE 1998, I, liii). It also creates a heavy dip in position 2, which is not otherwise found in Bragi’s poetry.

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