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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Einarr Skúlason (ESk)

12th century; volume 2; ed. Kari Ellen Gade;

VII. Geisli (Geisl) - 71

Skj info: Einarr Skúlason, Islandsk skjald, 12. årh. (AI, 455-85, BI, 423-57).

Skj poems:
1. Sigurðardrápa
2. Haraldsdrápa I
3. Haraldsdrápa II
4. Haraldssonakvæði(?)
5. Sigurðardrápa
6. Geisli
7. Runhenda
8. Eysteinsdrápa
9. Ingadrápa
10. Elfarvísur
11. Lausavísur
11. Lausavísur
11. Øxarflokkr(?)
12. Ubestemmelige vers, tilhørende forskellige fyrstedigte eller lausavísur

We know very little about the life of Einarr Skúlason (ESk). He is called prestr ‘priest’ and is mentioned in a catalogue (c. 1220) of priests of noble birth who were alive in western Iceland in 1143 (Stu 1878, II, 502). It is likely that he came from Borg, belonged to the Mýrar family and was a direct descendant of Þorsteinn Egilsson and a brother of Snorri Sturluson’s maternal grandfather (LH 1894-1901, II, 62-3; ÍF 3, 51 n. 3). He was probably born c. 1090. In 1153, he recited the poem Geisli ‘Light-beam’ (ESk GeislVII) in Kristkirken in Trondheim. He was marshal (stallari) at King Eysteinn Magnússon’s court, and he composed poetry in praise of the Norw. kings Sigurðr jórsalafari ‘Jerusalem-farer’ and Eysteinn Magnússon, Haraldr gilli(-kristr) ‘Servant (of Christ)’, Magnús inn blindi ‘the Blind’ Sigurðarson, Haraldr gilli’s sons, Ingi, Sigurðr munnr ‘Mouth’, and Eysteinn, and about the Norw. chieftain Grégóríus Dagsson (see SnE 1848-87, III, 254-5, 263-4, 269, 276-7, 286). According to Skáldatal, he also honoured the Norw. magnate Eindriði ungi ‘the Young’ Jónsson as well as Sørkvir Kolsson and Jón jarl Sørkvisson of Sweden and King Sveinn Eiríksson of Denmark (SnE 1848-87, III, 252, 258, 260, 268-9, 272, 283, 286). About the latter he recited a poem for which he received no reward (see ESk Lv 3; ÍF 35, 275). The extant portion of his poetic oeuvre consists of the following poems (excluding lvv.): Sigurðardrápa I (Sigdr I, five extant sts about Sigurðr jórsalafari); Haraldsdrápa I (Hardr I, two extant sts about Haraldr gilli); Haraldsdrápa II (Hardr II, five extant sts about Haraldr gilli); Haraldssonakvæði (Harsonkv, two extant sts about the sons of Haraldr gilli); Sigurðardrápa II (Sigdr II, one extant st. about Sigurðr munnr Haraldsson); Runhenda (Run, ten extant sts about Eysteinn Haraldsson); Eysteinsdrápa (Eystdr, two extant sts about Eysteinn Haraldsson); Ingadrápa (Ingdr, four extant sts about Ingi Haraldsson); Elfarvísur (Elfv, two extant sts about Grégóríus Dagsson); Geisli (GeislVII, seventy-one sts about S. Óláfr); Øxarflokkr (ØxflIII, ten extant sts about the gift of an axe).

It must be emphasised that, although the poetry included in the royal panegyrics below clearly belongs to poems of that genre, with two exceptions (Hardr II and Elfv), all the names of the poems are modern constructs (notably by Jón Sigurðsson and Finnur Jónsson). That also holds true for the assignment of sts to the individual poems. In some cases, sts were assigned to a particular poem for metrical reasons (so Run), in other cases because of the content or the named recipients of the praise. For the sake of convenience, the names of the poems and the sts assigned to them as found in Skj have been retained in the present edn. In addition to the royal encomia, a number of fragments and lvv. attributed to Einarr are preserved in SnE, TGT and LaufE (see ESk Frag 1-18III; ESk Lv 7-15III). These have been edited separately in SkP III. Six lvv. are transmitted in the kings’ sagas and edited below.

Geisli (‘Light beam’) — ESk GeislVII

Martin Chase 2007, ‘ Einarr Skúlason, Geisli’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 5-65. <> (accessed 7 December 2021)

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Skj: Einarr Skúlason: 6. Geisli, 1153 (AI, 459-73, BI, 427-45)

SkP info: VII, 18-19

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

14 — ESk Geisl 14VII

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Martin Chase (ed.) 2007, ‘Einarr Skúlason, Geisli 14’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry on Christian Subjects. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 7. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 18-19.

Réð um tolf, sás trúði,
tírbráðr, á guð, láði
(þjóð muna þegna* fœða)
þría vetr (konung betra),
áðr fullhugaðr felli
folkvaldr í dyn skjalda
(hann speni oss) fyr innan
Ǫlvishaug (frá bǫlvi).

Tírbráðr, sás trúði á guð, réð láði þría vetr um tolf — þjóð muna fœða betra konung þegna* —, áðr {fullhugaðr folkvaldr} felli í {dyn skjalda} fyr innan Ǫlvishaug; hann speni oss frá bǫlvi.

The fame-eager one, who believed in God, ruled the land for three winters beyond twelve — the people will not raise a better king of thanes —, before {the very wise army-ruler} [= Óláfr] fell in {the din of shields} [BATTLE] on the inner side of Alstahaugen; may he guide us away from evil.

Mss: Flat(2ra), Bb(117rb)

Readings: [1] um: ok Bb    [3] þegna*: þegnar Flat, þengill Bb;    fœða (‘fæda’): ‘bidia’ Bb

Editions: Skj: Einarr Skúlason, 6. Geisli 14: AI, 461, BI, 430, Skald I, 212, NN §§ 932, 1853B; Flat 1860-8, I, 2, Cederschiöld 1873, 3, Chase 2005, 64, 136-7.

Notes: [3]: Flat’s reading þegnar has been emended here to þegna*, as a nom. pl. noun cannot be the subject of the sg. verb muna ‘will not’. Skj B, Skald and NN §932 prefer to adopt Bb’s þengill, thus providing a noun subject for réð ‘ruled’, and emend ‘bidia’ to bíða ‘await, get’ (first proposed by Cederschiöld 1873), giving Tírbráðr þengill … þjóð muna bíða betra konung ‘Eager for fame, the prince … the people will not get a better king’. — [8] Ǫlvishaug: Lit. ‘Ǫlvir’s mound’, Alstahaugen, Trøndelag: cf. LP: Ǫlvishaugr; Rygh 1897-1936, XV, 89 identifies it with the farmstead of Alstadhaug in Skogn, Trøndelag. Einarr doubtless knew that Óláfr fell at Stiklestad (ON Stiklastaðir; cf. sts 17 and 43). Ǫlvishaugr may be an allusion to a battle recorded in the sagas of S. Óláfr (Hkr, II, 178-81; and ÓH 1941, 261-9) as well as in the Annales regii (s.a. 1021), Gottskalks Annall (s.a. 1021), and Oddaverja Annáll (s.a. 1020) (printed in Storm 1888, 106, 316 and 468 respectively). A powerful man from the Trondheim region named Ǫlvir á Eggju persisted in conducting pagan sacrifices on a grand scale long after Óláfr’s imposition of Christianity, and Óláfr finally invaded the district with a large army. He interrupted the rites, killing Ǫlvir and sentencing others to imprisonment, mutilation, banishment, or execution. And thus, says Snorri, he returned all the people to the true faith, gave them teachers, and built and consecrated churches. References to these events reinforce the theme hann speni oss frá bǫlvi ‘may he guide us away from evil’. Just as at Ǫlvishaugr Óláfr protected his people from the evil of paganism, by his martyr’s death at Stiklestad (where he was killed by Kálfr Árnason, who, according to Hkr, II, 182, 385, married Ǫlvir’s widow) he gained the power to protect Norway supernaturally. Ǫlvishaugr was just a few miles from Stiklestad, and Einarr’s audience would have recognized the correspondence between the two places and events.

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