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Runic Dictionary

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Bragi inn gamli Boddason (Bragi)

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

2. Þórr’s fishing (Þórr) - 6

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, ‘(Introduction to) 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.

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6 

in texts: Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 46

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


1 Þat erumk sent, at snemma
sonr Aldafǫðrs vildi
afls við úri þafðan
jarðar reist of freista.
It is conveyed to me that the son of mankind’s father [= Óðinn > = Þórr] soon wanted to try his strength against the twisted thing of the earth [= Miðgarðsormr], pounded by water.
2 Vaðr lá Viðris arfa
vilgi slakr, es rakðisk,
á Eynæfis ǫndri,
Jǫrmungandr at sandi.
The fishing line of Viðrir’s <= Óðinn’s> heir [= Þórr] lay not at all slack on the ski of Eynæfir <sea-king> [SHIP], when Jǫrmungandr <= Miðgarðsormr> unwound himself on the sand.
3 Hamri fórsk í hœgri
hǫnd, þás allra landa,
œgir Ǫflugbarða,
endiseiðs of kenndi.
The terrifier of Ǫflugbarði <giant> [= Þórr] lifted the hammer in his right hand, when he recognised the boundary-saithe of all lands [= Miðgarðsormr].
4 Ok borðróins barða
brautar hringr inn ljóti
á haussprengi Hrungnis
harðgeðr neðan starði.
And the ugly ring of the road of the side-rowed ship [SEA > = Miðgarðsormr] glared from below, defiant, at the skull-splitter of Hrungnir <giant> [= Þórr].
5 Þás forns Litar flotna
á fangboða ǫngli
hrøkkviáll of hrokkinn
hekk Vǫlsunga drekku.
When the coiling eel of the drink of the Vǫlsungar [POISON > = Miðgarðsormr] hung coiled up on the fishing hook of the wrestling-challenger of the followers of ancient Litr <giant> [GIANTS > = Þórr].
6 Vildit vrǫngum ofra
vágs byrsendir œgi,
hinns mjótygil máva
mœrar skar fyr Þóri.
The wind-sender of the sea [GIANT = Hymir] did not want to raise up the twisted terrifier, he who cut the slender string of the marshland of seagulls [SEA > FISHING LINE] for Þórr.
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