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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, 312

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

24 — Eskál Vell 24I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla 24’ 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. 312.

Strǫng varð gunnr, áðr gunnar
gammi nás und hramma
þrøngvimeiðr of þryngvi
þrimr hundruðum lunda.
Knátti hafs at hǫfðum
— hagnaðr vas þat — bragna
folkeflandi fylkir
fangsæll þaðan ganga.

Gunnr varð strǫng, áðr {þrøngvimeiðr {lunda gunnar}} of þryngvi þrimr hundruðum und hramma {gammi nás}. Fangsæll folkeflandi fylkir knátti ganga þaðan hafs at hǫfðum bragna; þat vas hagnaðr.

The battle became intense before {the oppressing-pole {of trees of battle}} [WARRIORS > WARRIOR] pressed three hundred [men] under the claws {of the vulture of the corpse} [RAVEN/EAGLE]. The plunder-rich battle-supporting ruler was able to walk from there to the sea over the heads of men; that was an advantage.

Mss: (142r), F(23va), J1ˣ(82v-83r), J2ˣ(78r), 325VIII 1(3rb) (Hkr); 61(11v), 53(9va), 54(5va), Bb(15rb) (ÓT); FskBˣ(20v-21r), FskAˣ(81-82) (Fsk)

Readings: [1] varð: var F, J1ˣ, Bb, FskBˣ;    gunnr: ‘gum’ J1ˣ;    áðr: at Bb;    gunnar: gumnar F, 61, FskBˣ, gumar J1ˣ    [2] gammi: glammi 325VIII 1, gamma FskBˣ;    nás: vals Bb, FskBˣ;    und: við 54, til Bb;    hramma: hrammi F, ‘(r)amma’(?) FskBˣ    [3] of: áðr J1ˣ, 61, 53, 54, Bb;    þryngvi: ‘þryngri’ 54, þrunginn FskBˣ, ‘þrongvi’ FskAˣ    [5] hafs: haf F;    at: af J1ˣ, 61, 53, 54, Bb    [6] þat: þar Bb    [7] ‑eflandi: ‑eflanda F;    fylkir: fylkis F    [8] fang‑: feng‑ F;    ‑sæll: ‑sæl Bb;    ganga: gengi F

Editions: Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 3. Vellekla 25: AI, 128, BI, 121, Skald I, 68, NN §405; Hkr 1893-1901, I, 287, IV, 77, ÍF 26, 247, Hkr 1991, I, 165 (ÓTHkr ch. 18), F 1871, 107; Fms 1, 95, Fms 12, 35, ÓT 1958-2000, I, 103 (ch. 56); Fsk 1902-3, 73 (ch. 14), ÍF 29, 115 (ch. 16).

Context: According to Hkr and ÓT the great battle between Hákon jarl and King Ragnfrøðr is fought at Þinganes, at the border between Sogn and Hǫrðaland (Hordaland). Hákon jarl has the larger force and is victorious. Ragnfrøðr flees to his ships, and three hundred of his company are killed. Fsk reports more briefly that Hákon defeated the Eiríkssynir (Gunnhildarsynir) in Sogn, killing three hundred of their troops.

Notes: [1, 3, 4] þrøngvimeiðr lunda gunnar ‘the oppressing-pole of trees of battle [WARRIORS > WARRIOR]’: To achieve a simpler word order, Kock (NN §405) takes lunda ‘of trees’ as a half-kenning meaning ‘of the men’, construing it with þrimr hundruðum ‘three hundreds’. However, half-kennings of this kind are rare and only occur later (see LP: 2. lundr; Reichardt 1930, 208-9). Moreover, semantic problems result within the warrior-kenning, which would then read ‘oppressing-pole of battle’, i.e. þrøngvi ‘oppressing’ would have gunnar ‘battle’ as its object. There are no warrior-kennings where the warrior oppresses battle, and therefore this and all other eds prefer the more complicated word order. — [5] hafs ‘to the sea’: This edn and most others interpret hafs as a gen. of direction modifying ganga ‘to walk, go’. A possible parallel is eggþings, which could mean ‘in the blade-assembly [BATTLE]’ in st. 22/6, 8 (see Note above, and Hkr 1893-1901, IV). (b) Hafs and bragna ‘men’s’ could be construed together in the sense ‘men of the sea’, referring to Ragnfrøðr’s men (Fms 12; Vell 1865, 64; Konráð Gíslason 1895-7, I, 154-5). However, this would be an unusual expression, and to judge from the prose sources Ragnfrøðr was a landed ruler with no particular affiliation to the sea. — [5, 6, 8] ganga at hǫfðum bragna ‘to walk over the heads of men’: This phrase could be understood literally, as a grotesque image of the victor walking over the heads of his (three hundred) slain enemies. It appears to be understood thus by the Fsk author, who singles it out after his citation of the stanza. A variant on this would be to understand hǫfuð as standing for the whole body or person (cf. Note to Sigv ErfÓl 18/7). A metaphorical expression of triumph over enemies is also possible, however, cf. Fritzner: höfuð 1: stíga yfir höfuð e-m, lit. ‘tread/climb over sby’s head’, hence blive ens Overmand ‘to overcome sby, to walk all over sby’. — [7] folkeflandi ‘battle-supporting’: A translation as ‘people-supporting’ would also be possible, but the context seems to favour a translation using ‘battle’ for folk.

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