Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)
9th century; volume 3; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross;
1. Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) - 12
2. Þórr’s fishing (Þórr) - 6
3. Fragments (Frag) - 6
4. An exchange of verses between Bragi and a troll-woman (Troll) - 1
IV. Lausavísur (Lv) - 2
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’)
Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘(Introduction to) 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.
Skj: Bragi enn gamli: 1. Ragnarsdrápa (AI, 1-4, BI, 1-4); stanzas (if different): 13 |
SkP info: III, 39
8 — Bragi Rdr 8III
Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Ragnarsdrápa 8’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 39.
context: Rdr 8-12 are cited in Skm as a continuous sequence to illustrate why battle can be called Hjaðninga veðr eða él ‘weather or storm of the Hjaðningar’ and weapons Hjaðninga eldar eða vendir ‘fires or wands of the Hjaðningar’ (SnE 1998, I, 72-3). Before quoting Bragi’s stanzas, Snorri gives a prose account of the legend of the Hjaðningar, the followers of a king named Heðinn Hjarrandason, who abducted Hildr, daughter of King Hǫgni, when the latter was away from home. When he learnt of his loss, Hǫgni set off with his men in pursuit of Heðinn and Hildr, and found them on the island of Hoy (ON Háey) in the Orkneys. Hildr went to see her father and, in apparent atonement on Heðinn’s behalf, offered him a neck-ring (men), but also indicated that Heðinn was ready to fight. In effect, she was more enthusiastic about her father and abductor fighting than they were, and the conflict escalated to a day-long battle. At night Hildr revived all the dead by magic and the battle continued in this way day after day up to Ragnarǫk. Stanza 8 is preceded by the statement Eptir þessi sǫgu orti Bragi skáld í Ragnars drápu loðbrókar ‘Bragi the poet composed [stanzas] in the drápa of Ragnarr loðbrók based on this story’.
notes: There are many variant versions of the legend of Hildr and the Hjaðningar in Old Norse, Old English and Middle High German, as well as in Saxo’s Gesta Danorum (Saxo 2005, I, 5, 8, 3 and 9, 1, pp. 338, 340-2). For a summary, see Clunies Ross (1973a, 110-31) and Marold (1990b). Bragi’s stanzas concentrate on the events leading up to the battle between Hǫgni and Heðinn and are focalised through his depiction of Hildr who acts, not to reconcile her father and lover, but to whet them and their men to bloody conflict. Her name (as a common noun) means ‘battle’ and she seems to embody a sexualised motivational force that leads men to fight one another, perhaps the same force that is also expressed through the conventional figure of the valkyrie.
texts: ‹Skm 252›,
editions: Skj Bragi enn gamli: 1. Ragnarsdrápa 8 (AI, 2; BI, 2); Skald I, 1-2, NN §§1505, 2205B-D; SnE 1848-87, I, 436-7, III, 84, SnE 1931, 155, SnE 1998, I, 72-3.