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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, 314

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

25 — Eskál Vell 25I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla 25’ 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. 314.

Hitt vas auk, at eykir
aurborðs á vit norðan
und sigrunni svinnum
sunnr Danmarkar runnu.
Ok holmfjǫturs hjalmi
Hǫrða valdr of faldinn
Dofra danskra jǫfra
dróttinn fund of sótti.

Hitt vas auk, at {eykir aurborðs} runnu norðan und {svinnum sigrunni} sunnr á vit Danmarkar. Ok {valdr Hǫrða}, {dróttinn Dofra}, of faldinn hjalmi {holmfjǫturs}, of sótti fund danskra jǫfra.

It also happened that {the draught-animals of the plank} [SHIPS] ran from the north under {the wise victory-tree} [WARRIOR] south towards Denmark. And {the ruler of the Hǫrðar} [NORWEGIAN RULER = Hákon jarl], {the lord of the Dofrar} [NORWEGIAN RULER = Hákon jarl], wearing the helmet {of the island-fetter} [= Miðgarðsormr], sought a meeting with the Danish rulers.

Mss: (147r), F(24va), J1ˣ(86v), J2ˣ(81r) (Hkr); 61(14va), 54(9rb), Bb(19va) (ÓT)

Readings: [1] auk: ok J1ˣ, 61, 54, Bb;    at: er F, J1ˣ, 61, 54, Bb    [2] á vit: ‘(ó)urukt’(?) Bb    [3] und: unz F;    sig‑: so Bb, sigr‑ Kˣ, F, J1ˣ, J2ˣ, 61, 54;    ‑runni: ‑runnum F    [4] ‑markar: ‑merkr J1ˣ;    runnu: runnum F, funnu 61, 54, ‘fundno’ Bb    [5] Ok: en J1ˣ, 61, enn 54, Bb;    holm‑: ‘hiolm‑’ Bb;    hjalmi: hilmir 54, Bb    [6] faldinn: fallinn J1ˣ

Editions: Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 3. Vellekla 26: AI, 128, BI, 121, Skald I, 68, NN §1854B; Hkr 1893-1901, I, 299, IV, 80, ÍF 26, 256, Hkr 1991, I, 171-2 (ÓTHkr ch. 26), F 1871, 111; Fms 1, 122-3, Fms 12, 36, ÓT 1958-2000, I, 136 (ch. 69).

Context: Emperor Otto II raises a great army of Saxons, Franks, Frisians and Wends, together with allies including Óláfr Tryggvason. The Danish king Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ sends Hákon jarl with his host to the Danavirki (Danevirke) to defend the border. Hkr and ÓT cite sts 25 and 26 without interruption.

Notes: [1-2] eykir aurborðs ‘the draught-animals of the plank [SHIPS]’: Aurborð is lit. ‘gravel plank’, i.e. one of the timbers low on the ship’s hull (see Notes to Ólhelg Lv 4/4, Þul Skipa 10/5III). — [5, 6] faldinn hjalmi holmfjǫturs ‘wearing the helmet of the island-fetter [= Miðgarðsormr]’: (a) The explanation of this kenning lies in the notion that the Miðgarðsormr ‘World Serpent’ encircles the earth (SnE 2005, 27, 50); this mythical serpent then represents ‘serpent’ or ‘snake’ in general. A snake helmet is mentioned several times in connection with Norwegian rulers, as when Haraldr hárfagri is called holmreyðar hjalmtamiðr ‘used to the helmet of the island-salmon [SNAKE]’ (Þhorn Gldr 6/5, 6), cf. also SnSt Ht 15/1, 2III. The snake helmet appears to be connected with the œgishjalmr ‘helmet of terror’, which occurs both as a figure of speech and as an object attributed to the legendary dragon Fáfnir (Fáfn 16/1, 17/1).This connection is suggested by the use of œgir in reference to the Miðgarðsormr in Bragi Þórr 6/2III. Norwegian kings are said to wear the œgishjalmr in Arn Hryn 6/4II and in Egill Arkv 4/2V (Eg 100), where œgishjalmr is varied by ýgs hjalmr ‘helmet of terror’; cf. also Sturl Hryn 8/8II. Helmets on which snakes are depicted are known from the archaeological record, albeit from before the Viking period (Sutton Hoo, Vendel); see further Marold (1998a, 13‑17) on snake helmets and œgishjalmr as symbols of the ruler’s terrifying power. (b) A possible variant of this is to understand holmfjǫturs ‘island-fetter, serpent’ as Fáfnir himself. (c) A further alternative is to interpret holmfjǫturs as a standard sea-kenning (cf. Meissner 94), hence ægis ‘sea, ocean’ and, by ofljóst, œgis ‘terror’, hence œgishjalmr by a different route. Attractive though this is, it seems to be ruled out by the dissimilar vowels: æ (ae ligature) contrasting with œ (oe ligature). — [7] Dofra ‘of the Dofrar’: Dofrar refers to an area south of Dovrefjell, Oppland (LP: Dofrar) and possibly its inhabitants.

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