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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

9th century; volume 3; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross;

2. Þórr’s fishing (Þórr) - 6

Skj info: Bragi enn gamli, Norsk skjald, omkr. 800-850. (AI, 1-5, BI, 1-5).

Skj poems:
1. Ragnarsdrápa
2. Ubestemmelige vers
3. Lausavísur

It is not possible to be precise about either the dates of Bragi Boddason’s (Bragi) floruit or about the details of his life. Some of the latter are almost certainly legendary (e.g. the narratives associated with Bragi Lv 1abIV, VIII and Bragi Troll), while his sobriquet inn gamli ‘the Old’ places him almost in prehistory, seen from an Icelandic viewpoint. Landnámabók (Ldn, ÍF 1, 82) mentions him as being associated by marriage with the family of Arinbjǫrn hersir from Firðir (Fjordane) in Western Norway, and Egils saga (Eg, ÍF 2, 182) places him in the same context. Ldn tells that Bragi’s wife was Lopthœna, daughter of another poet, Erpr lútandi ‘the Stooping’. Bragi seems to have been active as a poet in Norway one or two generations before the settlement of Iceland, hence c. 850-70. In Skáldatal’s list of poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 251, 259, 270), Bragi is the first named skald whose works have survived, at least in part. There he is associated with three patrons: Bjǫrn at Haugi, probably a Norwegian ruler, though some sources consider him Swedish (see Jón Jóhannesson 1940), Eysteinn beli and Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’, there said to be a Danish king who himself composed poetry. Snorri Sturluson (SnE 1998, I, 72-3) associates Bragi’s poem Ragnarsdrápa (Rdr) with Ragnarr loðbrók, and he may be one and the same as the Ragnarr mentioned in Rdr’s refrain and ‘the son of Sigurðr’ referred to in Rdr 2/4. If Bragi’s patron Ragnarr is to be identified with the Viking leader who led an attack on Paris in 845, supposedly died in a snake-pit at the hands of King Ælla of Northumbria, and was the father of the Ingware and Ubba that the F version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle claims led raids on England in the 860s and 70s (de Vries 1928a; McTurk 1991a), then their association is just possible chronologically and geographically, as Ragnarr’s connections within Scandinavia were with Norway as well as with Denmark (Smyth 1977, 17-20).

Alongside information about Bragi the poet, Icelandic traditions also mention a god or supernatural being of this name (Grí 44/7, Lok, Sigrdr 16/2, SnE 2005, 25). In the frame narrative of Skm, Snorri Sturluson represents Bragi as the god who informs a curious sea-giant Ægir about the nature of skaldic diction. The connection between Bragi the poet and Bragi the god is uncertain, but it seems likely that Bragi Boddason’s iconic status as the first skald whose poetry survived into historical times contributed to the formation of the concept of a deity closely associated with the practice of skaldic verse in a courtly context (cf. Anon EirmI, Eyv HákI). Some scholars have linked Bragi and the origin of dróttkvætt with the influence of Irish poetry and culture, but their arguments are inconclusive (cf. Turville-Petre 1971; Kuhn 1983, 272-5; Sayers 1992).

Þórr’s fishing — Bragi ÞórrIII

Margaret Clunies Ross 2017, ‘ Bragi inn gamli Boddason, Þórr’s fishing’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 46. <> (accessed 24 May 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5   6 

in texts: Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 46

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


Six dróttkvætt helmingar (Bragi Þórr 1-6) attributed to Bragi Boddason, most likely from a longer poem about the god Þórr’s fishing expedition to catch the World Serpent, Miðgarðsormr, are extant in mss of Skm (SnE). Stanza 1 occurs in mss R, , W, U and B. Stanzas 2, 3 and 5 occur in the same set of mss, minus B, while st. 4 is extant only in R and and st. 6 is found in R, , A, B, and C. Ms. 744ˣ has been used selectively in st. 6 at points where B is no longer legible.

Earlier editors have included these helmingar as part of Bragi Rdr (see discussion in Introduction to Rdr), although the mss of SnE do not indicate this, as they do with other stanzas clearly designated as from this drápa, nor do they cite all the stanzas about Þórr together, a treatment afforded to both the subjects of Rdr and those of the comparable ekphrasis Þjóð Haustl. There is also no recorded stef. Thus these helmingar have been edited separately here as belonging to a poem describing Þórr’s fishing expedition. It is possible that it was part of Rdr or some other ekphrasis, but there is no evidence to support those hypotheses. It is also possible that some of the lines quoted in SnE as helmingar may have originally combined to form whole stanzas.

The mythological subject of Þórr’s fight with Miðgarðsormr was very popular in the Viking Age and existed in several variant forms attested from the visual arts and from early poetry; for a discussion, see Meulengracht Sørensen (1986), Fuglesang (2007), Dronke (2011, 94-100) and cf. several fragments from poems about Þórr by Ǫlvir hnufa (Ǫlv Þórr), Úlfr Uggason (ÚlfrU Húsdr 3-6), Eysteinn Valdason (EVald Þórr), Gamli gnævaðarskáld (Ggnæv Þórr) and sts 17-24 of the eddic poem Hym. The god is usually accompanied by the giant Hymir (as here), who provides him with his bait (an ox-head) and tries to cut Þórr’s fishing line out of fear of the impending close encounter with the World Serpent. In some versions he succeeds (cf. Bragi’s st. 6) and the serpent falls back into the ocean, to await a second, fatal encounter with Þórr at Ragnarǫk, as SnE 2005, 44-5 (Gylf) and – apparently – Bragi prefer; in other versions, such as that known to Úlfr Uggason in Húsdrápa ‘House-drápa’ (ÚlfrU Húsdr), Þórr succeeds in striking off the serpent’s head in the waves. For further discussion of the myth, its representations and its meaning, see Introduction to ÚlfrU Húsdr 3-6.

In this edition the sequence of stanzas cited in the R text of SnE has been preserved, as providing the best narrative sequence. This coincides with the sequence in Skj (= Rdr sts 14-19), except that the order of what are here sts 2 and 3 are there reversed.

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