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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (ÞjóðA)

11th century; volume 2; ed. Diana Whaley;

5. Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr (Har) - 7

Skj info: Þjóðolfr Arnórsson, Islandsk skjald, d. 1066. (AI, 361-83, BI, 332-53).

Skj poems:
1. Magnúsflokkr
2. Runhent digt om Harald hårdråde
3. Sexstefja
4. Lausavísur

Þjóðólfr Arnórsson (ÞjóðA) is listed in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 254, 262) among the poets of Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and Haraldr harðráði ‘Hard-rule’ Sigurðarson, and virtually all his extant poetry seems to have been composed in honour of them, or in association with them; hence it dates from the period 1035-1066. The text of Skáldatal in AM 761 a 4°ˣ (SnE 1848-87, III, 259) also credits Þjóðólfr with poetry for Haraldr Þorkelsson, son of Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’ and one of the Dan. magnates present in Norway during the reign of Sveinn Álfífuson (1030-35). No identifiable fragments of this remain, but if true the tradition would suggest that Þjóðólfr was born not much later than 1010. Hemings þáttr Áslákssonar (Hem) has him die at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, and there is no record of him after that date, though Lv 11 has the air of being composed after the battle. Þjóðólfr was, according to Skáldatal and Fsk (ÍF 29, 245), the brother of another skald, Bǫlverkr Arnórsson (Bǫlv), and according to Sneglu-Halla þáttr (Snegl) in Flat (1860-8, III, 415), was from an undistinguished family in Svarfaðardalur, northern Iceland. The same þáttr (p. 421) names his father not as Arnórr but as Þorljótr, in the context of a scurrilous anecdote told against Þjóðólfr by Sneglu-Halli (SnH), who also taunts him with having composed the otherwise unknown Sorptrogsvísur ‘Dustbin Vísur’. The þáttr nevertheless describes him as accomplished (menntr vel) and courteous (kurteis maðr), highly favoured by King Haraldr and chief of his poets (haufutskꜳlld sitt, p. 415). Þjóðólfr’s poetry, rich in allusion and imagery, has continued to be widely admired, and it gains colour and vigour from the fact that he participated in many of the campaigns he depicts. It undoubtedly also reflects the fact that he was one of an exceptional circle of poets patronised by Haraldr (see Turville-Petre 1968), and much of his poetry shares topics and imagery with that of his contemporary Arnórr jarlaskáld (Arn), though there is no account of the dealings between these two. Þjóðólfr figures in several anecdotes centring on poetic composition: see Contexts to Lv 2-6, though we have no way of knowing whether he was so touchy about his reputation as the Context to Lv 4, and Snegl, would suggest; he also features as a go-between figure in Brands þáttr ǫrva, which cites no poetry. For brief biographies of Þjóðólfr see, e.g. SnE 1848-87, III, 578-9; LH 1894-1901, I, 627-32; Hollander 1945, 189-96.

In addition to the works edited here as Þjóðólfr’s, there have been further attributions to him. Þfagr Sveinn 7 is attributed to Þjóðólfr in Mork (1928-32, 165-6) and Flat (1860-8, III, 341), but to Þorleikr fagri in other sources; ÞKolb Eirdr 17I is attributed to Þjóðólfr in the U ms. alone, and Þfisk Lv 3 is attributed to him in F. Further, Flat, by citing Okík Magn 1 after ÞjóðA Magnfl 18 without announcing a change of skald implicitly assigns the latter to Þjóðólfr. We might perhaps also imagine Þjóðólfr having a hand in Anon (HSig) 2, the st. collaboratively composed by Haraldr’s men. A further set of six sts presented are anonymous in the medieval sources but are presented in this edn as Halli XI Fl (for reasons explained in Halli Biography below). These are printed among Þjóðólfr’s works in CPB II, 210-11 and listed under his name in SnE 1848-87, III, 583-4; Poole also finds ‘the ascription to Þjóðólfr Arnórsson … tempting, on stylistic grounds’ (1991, 75).

Preserved mainly in the kings’ sagas, above all in Hkr, Þjóðólfr’s oeuvre presents exceptional problems of reconstruction, which are discussed at some length in the Introductions to the individual poems or sets of sts. The chief problem is that Þjóðólfr certainly composed a major dróttkvætt poem for each of his patrons Magnús (Magnússflokkr, Magnfl) and Haraldr (Sexstefja, Sex), but that in each case there is also a set of sts that may or may not belong in the main encomium. The decision has been taken here to print them separately: fourteen sts depicting the aftermaths of Magnús’s major battles at Århus (Áróss) and Helgenæs (Helganes) are presented as ‘Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi’ (Magn), and seven describing the launch of Haraldr’s great levied fleet from Nidelven (the river Nið) as ‘Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr’ (Har). As a reference aid, the arrangement of Þjóðólfr’s oeuvre in SkP and Skj is shown here.

Magnússflokkr (ÞjóðA Magnfl)
SkP Skj
15Náði jarl at eyða 19
16Rǫnn lézt, ræsir Þrœnda,20
17Hizig laut, es heitir 21
18Flýði jarl af auðu, 22
19Háðisk heilli góðu25
Stanzas about Magnús Óláfsson in Danaveldi (ÞjóðA Magn)
1Hrauð leifs mǫgr áðan Magnfl 15
2Misst hafa Sveins at sýnu, Magnfl 16
3Gær sák grjóti stóru Lv 1
4Spurði einu orði Magnfl 17
5Saurstokkinn bar svíra Magnfl 18
6Hrindr af hrókalandi Lv 2
7Menn eigu þess minnask, Lv 3
8Skjǫld bark heim frá hjaldri Magnfl 23
9Bauð leifs sonr áðan Magnfl 24
10Nú taka Norðmenn knýja,Lv 4
11Brum jǫrn at œrnuLv 5
12Svíðr of seggja búðirLv 6
13Fjǫrð lét fylkir verðaLv 7
14Ek hef ekki at drekkaLv 8
Runhent poem about Haraldr (ÞjóðA Run)
Sexstefja (ÞjóðA Sex)
6Þjóð veit, at hefr háðar7
7Stólþengils lét stinga6
8Ok hertoga hneykir25
9Reist eikikjǫlr austan8
10Vatn lézt, vísi, slitna,9
11Gegn skyli herr, sem hugnar10
12Frn hefr sveit við Sveini11
13Lét vingjafa veitir12
14Fast bað fylking hrausta13
15Alm dró upplenzkr hilmir14
16Flest vas hirð, sús hraustum15
17Sogns kvðu gram gegnan16
18Sveinn át sigr at launa17
19Nús of verk, þaus vísi,18
20Létu lystir sleitu19
21Tók Holmbúa hneykir20
22Gagn brann greypra þegna; 21
23Fœrði fylkir Hǫrða,22
24Áræðis naut eyðir23
25Refsir reyndan ofsa24
26Mǫrk lét veitt fyr verka26
27Ǫrð sær Yrsu burðar27
28Lét hræteina hveiti32
29Blóðorra lætr barri30a
30Geirs oddum lætr greddir30b
31Gera vas gisting byrjuð29
32Hár skyli hirðar stjóri35
Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr (ÞjóðA Har)
1Skeið sák framm at flœði, Lv 18
2Slyngr laugardag lǫngu Lv 19
3Rétt kann rœði slíta Lv 20
4Sorgar veit, áðr slíti Lv 21
5Eigu skjól und skógi Lv 22
6Hléseyjar lemr hvan Lv 23
7Haraldr þeysti nú hraustla Lv 24
Fragments (ÞjóðA Frag )
1 Nús valmeiðum víðisLv 9
2Jarl/Ǫrr lætr, odda skúrar Sex 28
3Ganga él of Yngva Sex 31
4Snart við sæþráð kyrtat Sex 33
5Útan bindr við enda Sex 34
Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Lausavísur (ÞjóðA Lv)
1Leiða langar dauða Lv 10
2Sumar annat skal sunnar Lv 11
3[Logit hefr Baldr at Baldri]
brynþings fetilstingar
Lv 12
4Mildingr rauð í móðu Lv 13
5Varp ór þrætu þorpi Lv 14
6Sigurðr eggjaði sleggju Lv 15
7Haddan skall, en Halli Lv 16
8Út stendr undan báti Lv 17
9Ǫld es, sús jarli skyldi Lv 25
10Skalka frá, þótt fylkir Lv 26
11Ǫld hefr afráð goldit Lv 27

Reconstructions of the Þjóðólfr corpus are offered by Finnur Jónsson in SnE 1848-87, III, 579-90, which is the basis (almost unchanged) for Skj (AI, 361-83, BI, 332-53), and the Skj ordering is retained in Skald (I, 168-77); other major contributions are by Guðbrandur Vigfússon in CPB (II, 198-212) and by Fidjestøl (1982, 133-43, 172).

The principal eds consulted in the course of re-editing Þjóðólfr’s poetry for SkP are listed for each st., and are of two main types: eds of the skaldic corpus (Finnur Jónsson’s in Skj AI, 361-83; BI, 332-53 and Ernst Albin Kock’s in Skald I, 168-77, supported by numerous NN) and eds of the various prose works in which the poetry is preserved. Extracts are also included in anthologies, articles and other works including (with ten or more sts): CPB II, 198-212; Kock and Meissner 1931, I, 57-60; Hollander 1945,190-6 (annotated translations only), Poole 1991, 59-63; and (with seven sts) Turville-Petre 1976, 97-102. Such works as these, together with others containing comment on the poetry, are cited as appropriate in the Notes.


Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr — ÞjóðA HarII

Diana Whaley 2009, ‘ Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, Stanzas about Haraldr Sigurðarson’s leiðangr’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 147-58. <> (accessed 4 July 2022)

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7 

in texts: FGT, Gramm, H-Hr, , Hkr, HSig

SkP info: II, 147-58

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


These seven sts (ÞjóðA Har) describe the launch of Haraldr’s war-fleet, including a splendid new dragon-ship, and its stormy voyage to the Götaälv (Elfr); they are cited within prose accounts of Haraldr’s encounter with Sveinn Úlfsson at the Nissan (Niz) estuary in 1062. Their editorial title here refers to Haraldr’s leiðangr ‘expeditionary fleet’ (Har 5/3 and Note, and cf. Fidjestøl’s ‘flokk om leidangsfloten’, 1982, 172). They are all preserved in Hkr ( as main ms., F, E, J2ˣ) and H-Hr (H, Hr), with sts 1-4 additionally in (570a) and st. 3 in FGT (W, ll. 1-2 only). For the principal modern eds of Þjóðólfr’s poetry, including Har, see Biography above. The battle of the Nissan is also commemorated in ÞjóðA Sex 13-18, Arn Hardr 2-4, Stúfr Stúfdr 7, Steinn Nizv and Steinn Úlffl.

The sts have been taken as lvv. (SnE 1848-87, III, 589 and Skj), but there has also been a recognition that they may have belonged together as a set. This was suggested in a footnote to SnE 1848-87 (III, 589 n. 2) and by Guðbrandur Vígfússon, who referred to them as ‘Vísor’, distinguishing Har 1-4 as The Launch of the Dragon (and describing these as Þjóðólfr’s ‘best work’, ‘not surpassed by any court-poet’, CPB II, 199), Har 5-6 as The Levy or Levy-Ode, and Har 7 as Tryst with Sweyn (CPB II, 199 and 208-10). More recent scholarship has gone a step further by associating them with ÞjóðA Sex. Fidjestøl listed them as one of two strofegrupper med mogleg tilknyting til Sexstefja ‘stanza-groups possibly connected with Sexstefja’, but did not argue the case in detail (1982, 172, also 134); Poole subsequently argued, in detail and with conviction, for a place in the poem (1991, 59-72). He prints them as the first seven of a set of sts that he entitles ‘The Battle of the River Nissa (from Sexstefja)’ (pp. 59-62); the remaining sts are 13-18 in this edn and Sexstefja 12-17 in Skj.

The contentious matter of the status of the seven sts therefore requires rather extended discussion here. They are introduced with the formula, Svá segir Þjóðólfr ‘As Þjóðólfr says’ and variants, which would tend to suggest (but not to prove) origins in an extended poem. The sole exception to this is the first one, Har 1, which introduces Þá kvað Þjóðólfr ‘Then Þjóðólfr spoke’; was known to Hkr’s author Snorri, and it or its putative source, the Older Mork (*ÆMork) may be the source for the formula Þá kvað Þjóðólfr skáld which introduces Har 1 in all Hkr mss except F (as Poole remarks, 1991, 66, cf. 68-9). This formula, with its implication that a lv. follows, Poole regards as ‘a simple kind of error’ caused by the assumption that the address to the lovely lady (fagrt sprund) signalled a lv. He commends adopting the F reading Svá segir Þjóðólfr with its implication of an extended poem rather than assuming that Har 3, which shares the address to the lady, and all of Har 1-7 are lvv. (1991, 69; note that F also has sem segir ‘as … says’ as a variant to þá kvað ‘then spoke’ in the introduction to Magn 14).

Turning to the internal evidence, the subject matter of the leiðangr sts is entirely compatible with Sex, fitting into its chronology. On the other hand, the leisurely depiction of a single voyage might seem disproportionate in a poem apparently covering most of Haraldr’s career, and this objection is only partly answered by the fact that the battle of the Nissan (Niz) also occupies several sts.

Stylistic considerations in themselves rarely provide a firm basis for decisions about the (re)construction of extended skaldic poems, but there is a wealth of phonological and lexical concatenation both within Har and the Sex sts about the battle at the Nissan (Niz) and between these two groups, which for Poole adds up to a ‘marked artistic unity’ (Poole 1991, 69). Among the clearest examples are the echoes between Har 1 and 2, which have aðalhending of súð : prúð- in l. 4, which portray a magnificent warship (skeið) as a dragon (orms at the opening of l. 4 or 5), and feature female spectators (discussed below). Such devices put it beyond doubt that the Har sts belong together and strengthen the possibility that they are somehow linked with Sex.

As with the problem of distinguishing, within Þjóðólfr’s sts about Magnús góði, between those which do and do not belong to Magnfl, the most crucial internal evidence involves verb tenses. The narrative in Har contains a mix of pret. and pres. tenses that is not paralleled in the sts about the battle at the Nissan (Niz), nor elsewhere in Sex, as Poole concedes (1991, 68 and 72; pres. tense verbs in Sex are few and normally refer to enduring situations or the performance of the poem). However, he argues that ‘there are enough preterite verbs in the previous stanzas [i.e. the Har sts] to establish that the speaker’s point of view is retrospective’ (p. 68). He gives the example of Har 1 where the gold glows (glóar) on the dragon-ship and its stems ‘bore’ (bru) burnished/burnt gold. Perhaps in this case bru was chosen for metrical reasons, but it is certainly an oddity. Otherwise, however, pret. verbs in the Har sts are rare and are best explained on the basis of a viewpoint that is not retrospective but rather is situated imaginatively in the present moment of the events themselves, with brief flashbacks into the very immediate past and anticipations of the future. In Har 1 the skald tells his female interlocutor that he saw the great ship launched from the river (sák ... hrundit); now it is lying (liggr) offshore, ‘since’ (síz—a significant conjunction) it was launched (ýtt vas) from the roller. In Har 2 again we seem to have two phases of the same action: the young ruler ‘steered’ (réð at stýra) out of Nidelven (the river Nið), and (now) oars ‘plunge’ (falla) into the sea. In Har 7 Haraldr þeysti ‘impelled’ his men to the Götaälv (Elfr), but very recently (), and is now overnighting (náttar) at the boundary. There are no other pret. verbs in the Har sts except for minor variant readings. In fact, not only do pres.-tense verbs dominate, but there is pres. tense with future meaning: the mighty oars will be severely tested (Har 3), and so will the men wielding them (Har 4), and there is more than a hint that the Danes might flee (nema Danir haldi undan ‘unless the Danes head away’, Har 7). (Poole 1991, 65 sees the anticipatory quality of this as a link between the Har sts and the Sex description of the battle of the Nissan (Niz), which later depicts the Danes in flight.)

The problem here is very much the same one as discussed above under Magnfl. If the lvv. belong in the longer poem, we have to assume a sharp departure from the retrospective mode that otherwise dominates the poem, and one more complex and large-scale than the occasional use of historic pres. for vivid narration: rather, one that involves glances back into the immediate past and anticipation of the immediate future. This must at least give one pause before accepting that the Har sts can be a fully integrated part of the poem.

The use of the female figure in Har 1-3 also points in the same direction. It is not too surprising that the scene Þjóðólfr paints includes admiring female onlookers (cf. Fidjestøl 1976) but there is also an apostrophe to one of these real or imaginary ladies in Har 1 and 3. Embedded in a poem whose narrative mode is normally past tense and 3rd pers. or, rarely, 2nd pers. (Sex 6, 9), such apostrophes would require performers and hearers to make the imaginative effort of accommodating another interlocutor and a different, embedded performance situation. It is possible that Þjóðólfr, whose poetic panache is at its height in these fine sts, took this bold step to enhance still further the feeling that the poetry is uttered in the midst of events, but one is left wondering why this effect is, so far as we can see, confined to this part of the poem.

To summarise the evidence: with the important exception of the introductions to Har 1, the positioning of the voyage verses in the prose sources and the manner of citation tend to favour the view that they belong together as a sequence, either as a stefjamél within Sex or as a flokkr in themselves. The same can be said of the lexical and phonological concatenation, which is too marked to be coincidental. However, the narrative viewpoint created by the use of tenses and reinforced by conjunctions or adverbs and the addresses to a woman mark out the leiðangr sts from the more certain Sex verses, and if they formed part of Sex they were a rather extraordinary part, which perhaps originally had a life of its own and was later adopted into the poem either by the skald himself or in later tradition. The situation seems too uncertain to warrant the printing of these sts as an integral part of the poem in this edn.

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