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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

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

3. Fragments (Frag) - 6

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).

Fragments — Bragi FragIII

Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘ Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 53. <> (accessed 19 September 2021)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6 

Skj: Bragi enn gamli: 2. Ubestemmelige vers (AI, 4, BI, 4-5); stanzas (if different): 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

SkP info: III, 61

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

5 — Bragi Frag 5III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Fragments 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. 61.

Snorri Sturluson quotes these two helmingar (Bragi Frag 5 and 6), which he attributes to Bragi, within the long section of Skm dealing with kennings for ‘gold’ (SnE 1998, I, 40-5). The first is cited immediately after his narrative of why gold can be called ‘Ægir’s fire’, the second illustrates the practice of calling gold ‘the words of giants’. Both fragments praise the generosity of an unnamed person towards the poet. In the first the donor is called a ruler (stillir) and prince (jǫfurr), in the second a friend (vinr); in Frag 5 the ruler’s generosity is a reward for a poem, in Frag 6 the reason for the friend’s kindness is not specified. It is likely that these fragments belonged to a poem or poems similar to Bragi Rdr, and even possible that the first of them is from Rdr. Whether they are from the same or different poems is also unknown. The first helmingr is extant in mss R, and W of SnE while the second is in those three mss plus U. Ms. R is the main ms. for both fragments.

Eld of þák af jǫfri
ǫlna bekks við drykkju
(þat gaf) Fjǫlnis fjalla
(með fulli mér stillir).

Of þák {eld {bekks ǫlna}} af jǫfri við {drykkju {Fjǫlnis fjalla}}; stillir gaf mér þat með fulli.

I received from the prince {fire {of the bench of mackerels}} [SEA > GOLD] for {the drink {of the Fjǫlnir <= Óðinn> of the mountains}} [GIANT = Suttungr > POETRY]; the ruler gave me that with a toast.

Mss: R(27v), Tˣ(28v), W(59) (SnE)

Readings: [1] þák: so all others, ‘þac’ corrected from ‘þat’ in scribal hand R;    af: at Tˣ    [3] fjalla: fjalli Tˣ    [4] fulli: so all others, ‘fylli’ R

Editions: Skj: Bragi enn gamli, 2. Ubestemmelige vers 3: AI, 4, BI, 4-5, Skald I, 3, NN §221; SnE 1848-87, I, 338-41, III, 55, SnE 1931, 121, SnE 1998, I, 41.

Context: See Introduction above. As mentioned, Frag 5 illustrates Snorri’s account of why gold may be called ‘fire of the sea’ in skaldic poetry. The narrative also serves to explain how skalds can vary the basic terms of the kenning type by extension of the semantic field of either or both the base-word and determinant. Snorri approves of this practice, which he calls here nýgerving (lit. ‘new creation’) as long as it is in accordance with verisimilitude (líkindi) and what is natural (eðli). As it is in the only stanza quoted to illustrate this practice, Bragi’s gold-kenning here (see Notes below) must be interpreted in the light of it. In the prose Snorri claims such semantic extension was a development sanctioned by the chief skalds (hence the appropriateness of his citing Bragi here) and carried further by more recent poets. The stanza is introduced by svá kvað Bragi skáld ‘the poet Bragi said thus’.

Notes: [2] bekks ǫlna ‘of the bench of mackerels [SEA]’: In view of the prose context provided in Skm, Snorri seems to have understood bekkr to mean ‘brook’ (Northern Engl. beck, OED: beck, n.1, 1) here (LP: 1. bekkr) rather than ‘bench’ (LP: 2. bekkr), another possible lexical meaning with semantic extension to ‘home’ (cf. SnE 1998, II, 241-2); however, the skaldic corpus and modern scholarly opinion favour ‘bench’ (cf. LP: 2. bekkr; Meissner 96, Sigv Austv 14/8I bekkr hlunns ‘bench of the launcher [SEA]’). — [2, 3] drykkju Fjǫlnis fjalla ‘for the drink of the Fjǫlnir <= Óðinn> of the mountains [GIANT = Suttungr > POETRY]’: The interpretation of this phrase as a poem-kenning follows Kock (NN §221; see also SnE 1998, II, 20, 458), who rejected earlier eds’ emendations of Fjǫlnis to fjǫrnis (< fjǫrnir ‘helmet’) and stillir to stillis and the interpretation of R’s fylli as from fyllr f. ‘fill’ (one’s fill of something), in the sense ‘that which fills a helmet [HEAD]’. So Skj B and LP: 1. fjǫrnir. That emended reading is probably influenced by the statement we find in Eg (ÍF 2, 182) that Bragi once composed a poem for Bjǫrn, king of the Swedes, ok þá þar fyrir hǫfuð sitt ‘and got back his head for that’. Fjǫlnir is a name for Óðinn (Grí 47/5, Reg 18/7, Þul Óðins 2/1 and Note there) and is so understood by Snorri in Gylf (SnE 2005, 8 and 22, quoting Grí 24). Here it seems to form the base-word of a giant-kenning, and presumably refers to Suttungr, the giant who stole the mead of poetry from some dwarfs and immured it in a mountain, Hnitbjǫrg, from where Óðinn obtained it, as Snorri tells in the first part of Skm (SnE 1998, I, 3-5). — [4] með fulli ‘with a toast’: That is, with a full cup of ale or mead, understanding dat. sg. of full n. ‘(full) cup, drink, toast’. Both and W read fulli here, while R has fylli, allowing some eds to prefer this reading (as mentioned above), assuming it to be from fyllr f. (one’s) ‘fill’, a cupful. The difference in sense is slight. However, R’s fylli may in fact also be intended as fulli, since the scribe sometimes alternates <u/v> and <y> (see SnE 1998, I, liv).

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated