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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 23 May 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, 311

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

23 — Eskál Vell 23I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla 23’ 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. 311.

Varð fyr Vinða myrði
víðfrægt, en gramr síðan
gerðisk mest at morði,
mannfall við styr annan.
Hlym-Narfi bað hverfa
hlífar flagðs ok lagði
Jalks við ǫndurt fylki
ǫndur †fꜹrf† at landi.

Víðfrægt mannfall varð fyr {myrði Vinða} við annan styr, en síðan gerðisk gramr mest at morði. {{{Hlífar flagðs} hlym}-Narfi} bað hverfa {ǫndur Jalks} †fꜹrf† at landi ok lagði við ǫndurt fylki.

There was a widely renowned slaughter before {the killer of the Wends} [= Hákon jarl] in the second battle, and then the ruler eagerly set out for battle. {The Narfi <supernatural being> {of the din {of the troll-woman of the shield}}} [(lit. ‘din-Narfi of the troll-woman of the shield’) AXE > BATTLE > WARRIOR = Ragnfrøðr?] ordered {the ski of Jálkr <sea-king>} [SHIP] to be turned … towards land and pulled up alongside the front of the host.

Mss: (142r), F(23va), J1ˣ(82v), J2ˣ(77v), 325VIII 1(3rb) (Hkr); 61(11v), 53(9va), 54(5rb-va), Bb(15rb) (ÓT)

Readings: [1] Vinða: víga 61, 53, 54, Bb;    myrði: morði 54, Bb    [2] ‑frægt: ‑frægr 325VIII 1, Bb    [3] gerðisk: gjǫrðask 54    [5] Hlym‑: ‘hlum‑’ J1ˣ, ‘hlun‑’ 61, 53, 54, Bb;    Narfi: ‘‑rarfi’ J1ˣ, ‘‑nar fyr’ 53, 54, Bb;    bað: bauð 53, 54, Bb    [6] flagðs: ‘fladz’ 325VIII 1    [7] við: var 61, 53, 54, Bb;    ǫndurt: ‘ondvert’ 53, ‘ondyrt’ 54, Bb    [8] ǫndur: ‘ꜹndr’ J1ˣ, ‘ondvt’ 53;    †fꜹrf†: ‘þorf’ F, ‘forf’ 325VIII 1, ‘vorp’ 61, 53, 54, Bb;    at: af F, á 53, 54, Bb

Editions: Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 3. Vellekla 24: AI, 128, BI, 121, Skald I, 68, NN §§403, 404, 1828, 1885, 2244; Hkr 1893-1901, I, 286, IV, 76-7, ÍF 26, 246, Hkr 1991, I, 164 (ÓTHkr ch. 18), F 1871, 107; Fms 1, 95, Fms 12, 35, ÓT 1958-2000, I, 102-3 (ÓT ch. 56).

Context: Hákon jarl takes the entire host south toward Staðr (Stadlandet) and learns that King Ragnfrøðr has moved into Sogn with his forces. Learning of this, he heads there, lands, stakes out the battlefield and positions his troops on it.

Notes: [1-4]: Many suggestions have been made for the interpretation of this helmingr, which consists of two main clauses. (a) The construal above is the most straightforward, and is adopted in ÍF 26 and Hkr 1991. A difficulty here is that síðan ‘then’ (l. 2) would seem to imply that having created mannfall ‘slaughter’, Hákon readied himself for a further battle, although only two (in the north of Sunnmøre and in Sogneforden) are recounted in the prose sources and Ragnfrøðr is said to have fled from Norway after the battle in Sogn (Hkr, ÍF 26, 247; Fsk, ÍF 29, 115), leaving Hákon in control. Possibly the meaning is that Hákon was always ready for battle, or conceivably that the gramr ‘ruler’ is Ragnfrøðr, who was preparing for more strife (cf. Note to ll. 5-8). (b) It is perhaps in order to obviate this difficulty that most interpreters construe the first clause as Gramr varð fyr Vinða myrði við annan styr ‘The ruler encountered the killer of the Wends in a second battle’. En and síðan (l. 2) are then construed with the second clause: en síðan gerðisk mest víðfrægt mannfall at morði ‘and then an immense, widely renowned slaughter arose in battle’ (Fms 12; Vell 1865, 60; Hkr 1893-1901, IV; Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, I, 149-50; Skj B). This produces a better narrative sequence but assumes extreme fragmentation in l. 2: víðfrægt, en, gramr, síðan. — [1] myrði Vinða ‘the killer of the Wends [= Hákon jarl]’: This kenning is usually associated with Hákon jarl and interpreted as an allusion either to unknown raids in the Baltic Sea region or to the battle at the Danevirke (see Introduction). Morawiec (2006, 709) doubts any relationship to the battle, because it ended in defeat; however, the poem portrays the events as heroic and victorious acts of the ruler (see sts 26-8). The ÓT ms. tradition has replaced Vinða with víga ‘of the battles’, which yields a periphrasis ‘killer of the battles’ that resists interpretation. Freudenthal (Vell 1865, 60) suggests, implausibly, that this is a reference to Hákon jarl as a peaceable ruler. — [5] Narfi ‘Narfi <supernatural being>’: Son of the malevolent trickster-god Loki and brother of Hel and the wolf Fenrir (see Note to Yt 7/5-6). Narfi is himself turned into a wolf in the prose epilogue to Lok and in Gylf (SnE 2005, 49). His name therefore seems unsuitable as a base-word of a warrior-kenning praising Hákon jarl, because it cannot be understood as praise, and the kenning may refer to Hákon’s enemy Ragnfrøðr. — [7] við ǫndurt fylki ‘alongside the front of the host’: Fylki is here regarded as referring not to a region, but to a ‘host’ (cf. LP: fylki 1). It could, however, be interpreted as a regional term, and then the phrase would mean the outermost part of a fylki, cf. Icel. Ǫndvert nes (giving the p. n. Öndverðarnes) and Ǫndurð-eyrr (ÍF 26, 247 n.). But that is less likely, as fylki does not refer to a landscape feature like nes ‘headland’. — [7, 8] ǫndur Jalks ‘the ski of Jálkr <sea-king> [SHIP]’: Jálkr appears several times as a name for Óðinn (LP: Jalkr), but it seems to be used here as a name of a sea-king, cf. Hást Lv 3/8IV. — [8] †fꜹrf† ‘…’: So far no interpretation of the ms. readings (fǫrf, vorpþǫrf) has been conclusive. Most previous interpreters assume that the word formed an expression for ‘ship’ in conjunction with ǫndur Jalks ‘ski of Jálkr <sea-king>’. Specific suggestions have been: (a) Fǫr Jalks ǫndurs ‘the vehicle of the Jálkr of the ski [= Ullr > SHIP]’ (Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, I, 152), to which Finnur Jónsson (Hkr 1893-1901, IV) objects because of the short syllable fǫr. (b) Eggert Ó. Brím (ÓT 1892, 375) interprets þǫrf as an adv. in the sense of þarflega ‘as it was necessary’, but does not comment on the grammatical form. (c) Kock (NN §§404, 2244) suggests two configurations of the three words ǫndurr ‘ski’, fors ‘of the wave/waterfall’ and Jalks ‘of Jálkr/sea-king’ that could yield a ship-kenning, but in both the word fors ‘waterfall’ is superfluous.

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