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Haraldr hárfagri Hálfdanarson (Hhárf)

9th century; volume 1; ed. Russell Poole;

1. Snæfríðardrápa (Snædr) - 1

See ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. Haraldr (Hhárf) is credited with Snæfríðardrápa (Hhárf Snædr), of which a sole stanza exists, and an extempore helmingr (Hhárf Lv).

Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 4. Biographies > 4.1. Ruler biographies > 4.1.a. Kings and jarls of Norway > 8. Haraldr I hárfagri Hálfdanarson (r. c. 860-c. 932)

The Yngling king Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ was the son of the petty king Hálfdan svarti (q. v.). According to Hkr, Haraldr succeeded Hálfdan as king of Vestfold in south-eastern Norway at the age of ten. He is said to have ruled for seventy or seventy-three years (see Note to Anon Nkt 8 [All]II). Scholars have dated his accession at some point in the period 860-80 but all the dates of his life and reign are highly contested and uncertain (see Andersen 1977, 80-3). Haraldr formed alliances with Hákon Grjótgarðsson, jarl of Hlaðir (Lade) and ruler of the far northern region of Norway, and with Rǫgnvaldr Eysteinsson, jarl of Mœrr (Møre) in the north-west, and fought successful campaigns against the petty kings of Upplǫnd (Opplandene) and Raumsdalr (Romsdalen), as well as regaining the eastern territory of Vermaland (Värmland) from the Swedish king Eiríkr Eymundarson. Haraldr’s territorial expansion culminated in the sea-battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, Rogaland) against a coalition of kings and jarls, probably petty rulers from the south-western coastal regions of Hǫrðaland (Hordaland), Rogaland, and Agðir (Agder), though some scholars, such as von See (1961b, 105-11), have argued for more limited opposition; see Andersen (1977, 79-84) for a survey. The battle, traditionally dated c. 872, is often placed c. 885-c. 890 in more recent historiography, and that date-range is used throughout this volume. In the traditional view, Haraldr’s victory made him the effective ruler of all Norway, but the nature and extent of his power is disputed, and medieval claims about Haraldr’s significance in Norway’s progress towards unified statehood are now generally regarded as exaggerated.

Haraldr’s nickname lúfa ‘Shaggy-locks’ later gave way to hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’; both are attested from early poetry (see Index of Nicknames). The change of nickname is linked in some sources to Haraldr’s ambitions. Fsk (ÍF 29, 66) and Hkr (ÍF 26, 97) record a vow by Haraldr that he will not cut his hair until he has gained control of Norway, and HarHárf in Flat (1860-8, I, 569, 575) explicitly links the making of the vow to the nickname lúfa and the fulfilment of it to hárfagri. Ágr (ÍF 29, 3) on the other hand seems to assume an improvement in his looks.

Haraldr is said to have bestowed Shetland and Orkney on the family of his ally Rǫgnvaldr jarl, whose son Torf-Einarr (TorfE; see skald Biography) became the first Norse jarl there. However, Rǫgnvaldr was killed by Haraldr’s sons Hálfdan háleggr ‘Long-legged’ and Guðrøðr ljómi ‘Beam of Light’, provoking a feud, especially with Torf-Einarr. Haraldr had numerous sons – anywhere from nine to twenty, according to the sources (see Hkr 1991, III, 135; Driscoll in Ágr 2008, 84-5); their mothers were various wives, concubines, and servants, among them Ása, daughter of Hákon jarl Grjótgarðsson, and Ragnhildr, daughter of King Eiríkr of Jutland. For the story of Haraldr’s match with the Saami princess Snæfríðr, about whom he is implausibly said to have composed Hhárf Snædr, see Context to that poem. The unstable succession led to a fragmentation of power in Norway after Haraldr’s death c. 932. See Anon Nkt 4-9II, c. 1190; Theodoricus (MHN 6; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 5); HN (MHN 103-5; Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 14-15); Ágr (ÍF 29, 3-7; Ágr 2008, 3-7); Fsk (ÍF 29, 58-74; Finlay 2004, 42-54); HhárfHkr (ÍF 26, 94-149; Hollander 1964a, 59-95). Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 273) lists the following as Haraldr’s skalds: Auðunn illskælda (Auðunn), Þorbjǫrn hornklofi (Þhorn), Ǫlvir hnúfa (Ǫlvir), Þjóðólfr ór Hvini (Þjóð), Úlfr Sebbason and Guthormr sindri (Gsind; no poetry for Haraldr extant).

Events documented in poetry: Battles against the Orkndœlir (Þhorn Gldr 1-2); two battles near Sólskel (Solskjel, Þhorn Gldr 3-5 (?)); campaign in the Götaälv (Þhorn Gldr 6-7); the battle of Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden), c. 885-c. 890 (Þjóð Har 4; Þhorn Gldr 3-5 (?); Þhorn Harkv 7-12); Haraldr’s conquest of Norway (Anon Oddm); expedition to the British Isles (Þhorn Gldr 8); Haraldr’s change of nickname (Þjóð Har 5); his military exploits in general (Þhorn Gldr; Jór Send 1, 3); his war-band and life at his court (Þjóð Har 1-3; Þjóð Lv 1; Þhorn Harkv 5-6, 13, 15-23); dealings with (Gǫngu-)Hrólfr Rǫgnvaldsson (Hildr Lv); conflict between Haraldr and his son Hálfdan svarti and reconciliation through Guthormr sindri (Jór Send);  Haraldr’s attempt to suppress a sorcerer’s activities (Vitg Lv); his marriage to Ragnhildr (Þhorn Harkv 13-14); an anecdote featuring three of Haraldr’s skalds (Þhorn Lv; Auðunn Lv; Ǫlvir Lv). Events involving the sons of Haraldr: storm warning to Guðrøðr Haraldsson (Þjóð Lv 2); hostilities between Haraldr’s sons and Torf-Einarr Rǫgnvaldsson (Torf-Einarr Lv 1-5); Rǫgnvaldr réttilbeini accused of sorcery (Vitg Lv). See also Biographies of Eiríkr blóðøx and Hákon góði. Two stanzas are attributed to Haraldr: Hhárf Snædr on the death of Snæfríðr and Hhárf Lv on his retainers.

Snæfríðardrápa (‘Drápa about Snæfríðr’) — Hhárf SnædrI

Russell Poole 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Haraldr hárfagri Hálfdanarson, Snæfríðardrápa’ 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. 67.

stanzas:  1 

Skj: Haraldr hárfagri: 1. Snæfríðardrápa (AI, 5, BI, 5); stanzas (if different): [v] | [v]

SkP info: I, 68

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Hhárf Snædr 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Russell Poole (ed.) 2012, ‘Haraldr hárfagri Hálfdanarson, Snæfríðardrápa 1’ 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. 68.

Hneggi berk æ ugg
ótta; hlýði mér drótt;
dána vekk dul at mey
drauga á kerlaug.
Drôpu lætk ór Dvalins greip
dynja, meðan framm hrynr
— rekkum býðk Regins drykk
réttan — á bragar stétt.


I constantly carry trepidation {in the rock of fear}; [HEART] let the company hear me; I bring to light a delusion after the maiden’s death in {the cup-liquid of the undead}; [POETRY] I make the drápa ring out from {the grasp of Dvalinn}, [MOUTH] as it rushes forth on {the path of poetry}; [TONGUE] I offer men {a correct drink of Reginn}. [POETRY]

context: The stanza is included in the story of Haraldr hárfagri and Snæfríðr as told in Flat; versions also appear in Ágr (ÍF 29, 5-6) and Hkr (ÍF 26, 125-7) without the stanza or reference to it. Haraldr is enticed by one Svási, who according to Flat is a dwarf, into meeting his daughter Snæfríðr; he feels burning desire for her. After their marriage she bears him sons (named in Flat 1860-8, I, 567). So infatuated is he that he never leaves her side so long as she lives. At her death, a sheet or shroud (blæja) called Svásanautr ‘Svási’s gift’ is draped over her. Through its magical properties, her complexion remains unaltered, leading the king to imagine that she might revive. He remains with her for three years, to the neglect of his kingly duties, and will not allow her body to be buried. Haraldr recites a poem about her called Snjófríðardrápa, from which the upphaf ‘beginning’ is cited in Flat. Eventually, a wise counsellor persuades the king to allow the shroud to be removed. When the true, corrupt state of the corpse is revealed, he comes to his senses and allows it to be buried.

notes: [1-4]: These difficult lines have been the subject of a series of emendations, outlined here, but none is wholly persuasive, and the interpretation shown above is a tentative attempt to construe the ms. text as it stands. (a) Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) offers the following text: Hneggi berk ok æ ugg | ótta (hlýði) mér (drótt); | dána vekka (dróttins) mey | (drauga á kerlaug) ‘I constantly carry in my heart dread and fear; may people listen to my poem; I cannot rouse the dead woman’. The kenning for ‘poem/poetry’ is tentatively explained as kerlaug dróttins drauga ‘vessel-liquid (lit. vessel-washing) of Óðinn’ in LP: kerlaug. Finnur’s principal conjectures, along with the objections raised against them by subsequent commentators, are the following. Ok ‘and’ has been added in l. 1. In l. 2 the 3rd pers. pl. pres. subj. hlýði ‘let … hear’ is separated syntactically from mér ‘me’ (NN §132; Reichardt 1928, 158). In l. 3 the noun dróttins ‘lord’ is arrived at by emendation of ms. dular/dulat (see Note below) and separated syntactically from mey ‘maiden’ so as to yield a combination dróttins drauga ‘of the lord of the undead’, not paralleled in Óðinn-kennings (Meissner 252-3; Reichardt 1928, 158-9); dróttins is also unmetrical. A further emendation in l. 3 is vekka, from vek ek, with addition of the negative enclitic particle (NN §132). (b) Kock retains Finnur’s ok in l. 1 so as to arrive at ok ugg ótta, i. e. ugg ok ótta ‘fear and terror’ (NN §132, cf. §§1508C, 1827D). Restoring vekk ‘I awake’ and interpreting dular as an adverbial gen. meaning ‘out of slumber, torpor’, Kock (NN §132) proposes that the speaker represents himself as waking the dead maiden. He further emends drauga to dverga ‘of dwarfs’ so as to arrive at a more expected kenning for ‘poem’ (NN §132; subsequently rescinded in NN §§2209, 2985B since it fails to provide hending). (c) Bjarni Einarsson (1961, 34-5) tentatively proposes Ber ek æ ugg (ok?) ótta hneggi ‘I always bear fear (and?) terror in the heart’, with the implication that ok might be unnecessary, but such an asyndeton (omission of an explicit conj.) would be hard to parallel. (d) Further emendations are suggested by Einar Ólafur Sveinsson (1975, 174-8; cf. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson 1976, 148) and Ólafur Halldórsson (1969b and 1990).

texts: Flat 412

editions: Skj Haraldr hárfagri: 1. Snæfríðardrápa (AI, 5; BI, 5); Skald I, 3, NN §§132, 133, 1508C, 1806, 1827D, 2209, 2408, 2985B; Flat 1860-8, I, 582; Reichardt 1928, 65, 113, 158-9.


AM 761 b 4°x (761bx) 185r - 185r (Flat)  image  
GKS 1005 fol (Flat) 78ra, 22 - 78ra, 25 (Flat)  transcr.  image  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated