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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, 325

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

33 — Eskál Vell 33I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2012, ‘Einarr skálaglamm Helgason, Vellekla 33’ 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. 325.

Hjalmeldum bauð hildi
hjaldrǫrr, með Sigvalda
hinns fór í gný Gunnar,
gunndjarfr Búi, sunnan.

Hjaldrǫrr gunndjarfr Búi, hinns fór með Sigvalda sunnan í {gný Gunnar}, bauð hildi {hjalmeldum}.

The fight-eager, battle-daring Búi, the one who travelled from the south with Sigvaldi to {the din of Gunnr <valkyrie>} [BATTLE], offered battle {with helmet-fires} [SWORDS].

Mss: R(34r), Tˣ(35r), W(77), U(33r), A(11r), C(5v) (SnE)

Readings: [1] ‑eldum: so C, om. R, Tˣ, W, ‑faldinn U, A;    bauð: ‘beraud’ W;    hildi: ‘hildi olmum’ W, ‘h[...]i’ C    [2] hjaldr‑: ‘hi[...]lldr‑’ C;    með: so C, om. R, ok Tˣ, W, U, A;    ‑valda: so W, C, ‑valdi R, Tˣ, U, A    [3] í gný: ‘ygni’ Tˣ;    Gunnar: geira A

Editions: Skj: Einarr Helgason skálaglamm, 3. Vellekla 34: AI, 130, BI, 123, Skald I, 69, NN §§318, 411; SnE 1848-87, I, 422, II, 328, 439, 588, SnE 1931, 150, SnE 1998, I, 68.


The helmingr is cited in SnE (Skm) in a passage containing examples of kennings for weapons and other battle-gear.

Notes: [All]: Stanzas 33-4 concern the sea-battle between the Norwegian jarls and the Jómsvíkingar at Hjǫrungavágr (probably Liavågen, Møre og Romsdal, Norway, c. 985). For the battle and skaldic poetry associated with it, see the entry on Hákon jarl Sigurðarson in ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. — [1] hjalmeldum ‘with helmet-fires [SWORDS]’: Line 1 is corrupt in mss R, W and T, which apparently lack a word following hjalm. (a) This is where U and A have ‑faldinn, which most previous eds have chosen, giving adj. hjalmfaldinn ‘wearing a helmet’, qualifying Búi. (b) In Skj B Finnur Jónsson (following Nj 1875-8, II, 78) emends hjalmfaldinn to hjalmfǫldnum, qualifying Sigvalda (l. 2), but emendation is unnecessary. (c) However, none of the previous eds have observed that, whereas SnE cites the stanza as an example of kennings for weapons and armour, their suggested improvements to l. 1 leave the stanza without such a kenning. The original form of the stanza is probably preserved in ms. C, which here gives hjalmeldum ‘helmet-fires [SWORDS]’. — [2] hjaldrǫrr ‘fight-eager’: It is possible to construe hjaldrǫrr with Búi (so NN §411), but placing it in the rel. clause where it qualifies hinns ... ‘who ...’ avoids unnecessary syntactic complication (so also Skj B, and see Reichardt 1928, 138). — [2] með ‘with’: Although með is only found in ms. C (most give ok ‘and’), previous eds have selected it and construed með Sigvalda as part of the rel. clause. This is justified in the light of Sigvaldi’s probable status as the superior commander (see Note to l. 2 Sigvalda). Only Kock (NN §411) chooses ok Sigvaldi and places it in the main clause. — [2] Sigvalda ‘Sigvaldi’: According to Hkr (ÍF 26, 272), Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson was the jarl of Jómsborg, a fortified viking settlement that lay near Wolin, Poland, and the commander of the Jómsvíkingar, a confederation of sea-warriors. Hkr (ÍF 26, 274) reports that he, at his father’s memorial feast, swears to kill or vanquish Hákon jarl. Other viking leaders take similar oaths, including Búi digri ‘the Stout’ Vésetason from Bornholm. They all go to Norway to prosecute their oath. The internal hierarchy among the vikings is never clarified, but Sigvaldi seems to be their leader, as he makes the first vow, and it is his fleet that attacks Hákon jarl’s. — [4] Búi: See Note to l. 2 Sigvalda.

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