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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Einarr skálaglamm Helgason (Eskál)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Edith Marold;

2. Vellekla (Vell) - 37

Skj info: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, Islandsk skjald, d. o. 995. (AI, 122-132, BI, 116-125).

Skj poems:
1. Drape om Hakon jarl
2. Et digt om Harald blåtand(?)
3. Vellekla
4. Lausavísur
4. Lausavísur

Little is certain about the life of Einarr skálaglamm ‘Tinkle-scales’ Helgason (Eskál), except that he came from a noble family from western Iceland. They were descendants of Bjǫrn austrœni ‘the Easterner’, i.e. ‘the Norwegian’, son of Ketill flatnefr ‘Flat-nose’. According to Ldn (ÍF 1, 123), Einarr’s mother was Niðbjǫrg, daughter of an Irish king. Einarr’s brother Ósvífr was the father of Guðrún Ósvífsdóttir, the heroine of Laxdœla saga. A few anecdotes link Einarr to Egill Skallagrímsson. Egils saga (Eg, ÍF 2, 268-73) tells of Einarr visiting Egill and the two talking at length about poetry. The meeting led to a long friendship, which is reflected in similarities between the two skalds’ poetry (de Vries 1964-7, I, 176). A valuable shield given to Egill by Einarr inspired Egill to compose a Skjaldardrápa or shield poem honouring the gift, of which only the first stanza has survived (Egill SkjalddrV).

Einarr must have lived c. 940-c. 990. He presumably spent much of his life at the court of Hákon jarl Sigurðarson in Norway, for whom he composed Vellekla (Eskál Vell) and another poem, Hákonardrápa (Eskál Hákdr). Two stanzas (Eskál HardrIII) that possibly stem from one or more Haraldsdrápur in honour of Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ Gormsson indicate that he might have spent time at the Danish court, perhaps as a companion of Hákon jarl. Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266, 280) mentions Einarr only as one of Hákon jarl’s skalds. Besides these poems, three lausavísur are preserved in Jvs, Fsk, Flat and Eg. The first two are part of a typical skald anecdote about court poetry and its reward, and are preserved in versions that differ sufficiently for them to be printed in both SkP I (Eskál Lv 1a and Lv 2a) and SkP V (Eskál Lv 1bV (Eg 124) and Lv 2bV (Eg 125)). The third (Eskál Lv 3) concerns the death of Þorleifr skúma Þorkelsson (Þskúm), an Icelandic retainer of Hákon jarl, at the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen, c. 985).

According to Jvs (1969, 178-9), Einarr’s nickname skálaglamm ‘Tinkle-scales’ refers to a pair of precious and magically resounding scales (OIcel. skálar/skálir) with which Hákon jarl rewarded him for Vell (see Introduction to Eskál Lv 1-3). This explanation (apparently accepted in Finnur Jónsson 1907, 284) may, however, be a later etymological invention, and skálaglamm could instead derive from OIcel. skáli ‘hall, free-standing house’ either as part of a sky-, breast- or shield-kenning (Lie 1975, 643), or more likely as a ‘loud sound (glamm) in the hall’, in reference to his art of recitation. Jvs (1969, 178) also tells that Einarr earlier had the nickname Skjaldmeyjar-Einarr ‘Einarr of the shield-maiden’. Skjaldmeyjar are armed women who took part in battles (cf. Akv 16), but nothing is known about how Einarr got this nickname. According to Ldn and Jvs, Einarr drowned in Breiðafjörður on a voyage home (Ldn, ÍF 1, 123; Jvs 1969, 205); they add a legend according to which his scales (Jvs), or his shield and his coat (Ldn), wash ashore, inspiring the names of the islands Skáleyjar, Skjaldey and Feldarhólmr.

Vellekla (‘Lack of Gold’) — Eskál VellI

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘ Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 280. <> (accessed 21 January 2022)

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Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm: 3. Vellekla, o. 986 (AI, 122-31, BI, 117-24); stanzas (if different): 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37

SkP info: I, 283

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Eskál Vell 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla 1’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 283.

Hugstóran biðk heyra
— heyr, jarl, Kvasis dreyra —
foldar vǫrð á fyrða
fjarðleggjar brim dreggjar.

Biðk {hugstóran vǫrð foldar} heyra á brim {dreggjar {fyrða {fjarðleggjar}}}; heyr, jarl, {dreyra Kvasis}.

I bid {the high-minded guardian of the land} [RULER = Hákon jarl] listen to the surf {of the dregs {of the men {of the fjord-bone}}} [ROCK > DWARFS > POEM]; hear, jarl, {the blood of Kvasir <mythical being>} [POEM].

Mss: R(21r), Tˣ(21v), W(46), U(27r), B(4r) (SnE)

Readings: [1] ‑stóran: ‑stórar U    [2] heyr: hyr B    [3] á: ok U;    fyrða: ‘fi(r)ða’(?) Tˣ    [4] ‑leggjar: ‘‑leggiat’ B;    dreggjar: ‘dreggiat’ W, B

Editions: Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 3. Vellekla 1: AI, 122, BI, 117, Skald I, 66, NN §1884B; SnE 1848-87, I, 244-7, II, 306, 521, SnE 1931, 92, SnE 1998, I, 12.

Context: In SnE (Skm), Vell 1 and 4 and later 2 and 3 are cited among several stanzas which illustrate kennings for ‘poetry’.

Notes: [All]: Both of the poem-kennings in this typical introductory stanza, in which the skald asks for a hearing, refer to the myth of the origin of the mead of poetry, which is told by Snorri Sturluson at the beginning of Skm (SnE 1998, I, 3-5; for the myth see also Introduction to SkP III). The dwarfs kill Kvasir, the divine being created by the Æsir and the Vanir at their peace-making, and brew the mead of poetry from his blood mixed with honey. This mead subsequently comes into the hands of the giants and then of Óðinn. The poem-kennings here, as in the following stanzas, use a periphrasis for ‘mead of poetry’ as a metonym for ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ (see SnE 1998, I, 6, 11-14; Meissner 427-30). The name Kvasir in this kenning has been explained by words for an alcoholic drink made from crushed fruit (ARG II, 67-8; AEW: Kvasir). Frank (1981, 159-60) claims that Snorri misunderstood his sources when presenting his interpretation of the myth of the origin of the mead of poetry. She interprets kvasir ‘unmythologically’ as a word for ‘fermenting mash’, whose dreyr ‘blood (liquid)’ is intoxicating drink. However, this needs further qualification in order to form a periphrasis for the mead of poetry, so that Frank is obliged to assume that the reference to giants [or dwarfs] in the second kenning (l. 4) also applies to the first. — [1, 3, 4] heyra á brim ‘listen to the surf’: In other contexts brim dreggjar ‘surf of yeast/dregs’ could have formed an ale-kenning which in turn formed the base-word of a poem-kenning (LP: brim, though cf. Krömmelbein 1983, 172). Here, however, it appears that brim ‘surf’ is not part of the poem-kenning proper, whose base-word is dregg ‘dregs’. Rather, ‘listen to the surf’ is part of a metaphoric image spanning the introductory stanzas of Vell which likens the poem’s effect on the listener to that of an onrushing wave (see Marold 1994a, 473; cf. Frank 1981, 158; Krömmelbein 1983, 178). In the introductory sts 1-5 the poet combines metaphors and kennings in a very unconventional way, imagining the recitation of the poem as a wave growing and roaring before the ruler, or issuing from inside the poet through his mouth and booming against the cliffs of his teeth, or passing over the ruler’s men. Into this metaphorical framework the poet inserts the kennings for ‘poem’ (see Note to [All] above), sometimes adjusting their base-words to this imagery. — [3-4] fyrða fjarðleggjar ‘of the men of the fjord-bone [ROCK > DWARFS]’: The kenning is here assumed to refer to dwarfs, since they brewed the mead of poetry. It could alternatively refer to the giants, who are known as mountain-dwellers, but they obtained the mead as ransom from the earlier owners, the dwarfs.

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