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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson (Rv)

12th century; volume 2; ed. Judith Jesch;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 32

Skj info: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson, Orknøsk jarl og skjald, d. 1158. (AI, 505-28, BI, 478-87).

Skj poems:
Lausavísur [33-35]

Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, jarl of Orkney, is known primarily from Orkn, in which he is one of the main characters, but he is also mentioned in other texts, including Hkr (ÍF 28, 324-5) and Icel. annals (Storm 1888, 20-1, 60, 113-14, 116, 120, 321-2, 324). He was born Kali Kolsson, the son of a Norw. nobleman from Agder, Kolr Kalason, and Gunnhildr, the sister of the martyred S. Magnús of Orkney (ÍF 34, 101-2). Orkn recounts various episodes from Rǫgnvaldr’s youth, in Norway and elsewhere, several of them associated with lvv. (see below). Though we are not told how and when he learned the skaldic art, his grandfather Kali Sæbjarnarson is said to have been good at poetical composition (ÍF 34, 95) and indeed Orkn preserves one st. by him (Kali Lv). Kali Kolsson was given the name Rǫgnvaldr by King Sigurðr jórsalafari Magnússon when he also made him joint jarl of Orkney with Páll Hákonarson. There are relatively few lvv. associated with Rǫgnvaldr’s assumption of power in Orkney and subsequent political affairs, though both are recounted at length in the saga. Rǫgnvaldr is remembered for his poetry, especially that composed during his crusade to the Holy Land in 1151-3, and for instigating the building of the cathedral in Kirkwall, dedicated to his uncle S. Magnús. Rǫgnvaldr was killed in Caithness in an ambush by political opponents in 1158 (according to the Icel. annals, but 1159 according to the internal chronology of Orkn, cf. ÍF 34, xc) and is remembered as a saint. His relics were translated in 1192 (according to the Icel. annals) and a skull and some bones found in St Magnus Cathedral may have been his (Jesch and Molleson, 2005). There are thirty-five lvv. attributed to Rǫgnvaldr, of which thirty-two are preserved in mss of Orkn and edited here. Three further lvv. (Rv Lv 33-5III) are edited in SkP III, along with Háttalykill (RvHbreiðm HlIII), a poetical guide to metres composed by Rǫgnvaldr jointly with Hallr Þórarinsson breiðmaga.

Vol. II. Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: from c. 1035 to c. 1300 > 8. Introduction > 5. Biographies > 2. Biographies of Other Dignitaries > e. Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson

Jarl Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson of Orkney is not commemorated in praise poetry, and his biography is therefore not included here. For his life and poetic works, see his skald Biography.

Lausavísur — Rv LvII

Judith Jesch 2009, ‘ Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur’ 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. 575-609. <> (accessed 3 December 2021)

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Skj: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson: Lausavísur (AI, 505-12, BI, 478-87); stanzas (if different): 33 | 34 | 35

SkP info: II, 579-80

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

4 — Rv Lv 4II

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Judith Jesch (ed.) 2009, ‘Rǫgnvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 4’ 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. 579-80.

Sextán hefik sénar
senn ok topp í enni
jarðar elli firrðar
ormvangs saman ganga.
Þat bôrum vér vitni,
vestr at hér sé flestar
— sjá liggr út við élum
ey — kollóttar meyjar.

Hefik sénar sextán senn, firrðar {elli {jarðar {ormvangs}}}, ok topp í enni, ganga saman. Vér bôrum þat vitni, at hér vestr sé flestar meyjar kollóttar; sjá ey liggr út við élum.

I have seen sixteen [women] all at once, denuded of {the old age {of the ground of {the serpent-field}}} [GOLD > WOMAN > BEARD], and [they had] a fringe on their forehead, walking together. We bore witness to the fact that, here in the west, most maidens are bald; that island lies out in the direction of storms.

Mss: Flat(137va), R702ˣ(41v) (Orkn)

Readings: [1] hefik (‘hefe ek’): so R702ˣ, ‘hefir ek’ Flat    [3] elli: so R702ˣ, eldi Flat    [5] bôrum: ‘baru’ R702ˣ    [7] élum: ‘elon’ Flat, ‘elu’ R702ˣ

Editions: Skj: Rǫgnvaldr jarl kali Kolsson, Lausavísur 4: AI, 506, BI, 479, Skald I, 235, NN §2061; Flat 1860-8, II, 458, Orkn 1887, 123-4, Orkn 1913-16, 182, ÍF 34, 163-4 (ch. 72), Bibire 1988, 227.

Context: Rǫgnvaldr is on the island of Westray in Orkney during his campaign to claim his inheritance. While attending church on Sunday, he sees sixteen persons who are slyppir ok kollóttir ‘unarmed and bald’. His astonished men discuss who they could be.

Notes: [All]: According to the chronology of Orkn this took place in April 1136 (Taylor 1938, 252), but Taylor (1938, 386) suggests that the episode is in fact another version of an incident in ch. 77 which also describes the sight of fifteen or sixteen men led by a bishop with a distinctive tonsure and which took place at Christmas in 1138. The st. is probably placed here because it seems to refer to Westray (Vestrey), but it has no obvious connection with either the preceding or the following events which are indeed located in Westray. — [1, 3] sénar; firrðar ‘seen; denuded of’: The f. acc. pl. endings on both of these inflected past participles indicate that the sixteen persons are figured as female based on their being clean-shaven, unarmed, and (presumably) because they are wearing long robes. — [2] ok topp ‘and [they had] a fringe’: Kock (NN §2061) suggests this is an example of an adverbial acc. — [2, 8] topp í enni; kollóttar ‘a fringe on their forehead; bald’: This appears to describe the standard Western coronal tonsure (which leaves the hair in a ring on the head), rather than the insular tonsure, as suggested in ÍF 34. The form of the latter has recently been thoroughly discussed in McCarthy 2003, who argues that it had a triangular shape. The coronal tonsure is similar to male-pattern baldness and is thus the clue that the people being observed are not women after all. The st. plays on various gender ambiguities to explain how a group of men can be both unarmed and bald. — [3-4] firrðar elli jarðar ormvangs ‘denuded of the old age of the ground of the serpent-field [GOLD > WOMAN > BEARD]’: The kenning refers to the fact that old women sometimes grow facial hair; these monks are clean-shaven. Skj B emends jarðar (gen. sg.) to jarðir (acc. pl.) and interprets the main statement of ll. 1-4 as Hefk sénar sextán ormvangs jarðir, elli firðar translated as Jeg har set 16 kvinder, fjærnt fra alderdommen ‘I have seen sixteen women [grounds of the serpent-field], far from old age’, i.e. young women. This has the virtue of agreeing with meyjar ‘maidens’ (l. 8) and avoids an awkward transition in the kenning from an abstraction (elli ‘old age’) to a physical entity (a beard). However, as well as requiring an emendation, it seems an odd way of referring to young women—firrðar specifically means ‘removed’ rather than just ‘far’, and it is not clear in what way they have been ‘removed’ from old age. Skj B does not, of course, explain how a st. about women is to be understood in the saga context; the present interpretation, while admittedly requiring an awkward kenning, at least provides a clue. — [6, 7, 8] hér vestr; sjá ey ‘here in the west; that island’: The saga-author clearly understood this st. to refer to Westray which, as the westernmost of the Orkneys, does indeed lie ‘out in the direction of storms’. If there was a monastic community in this area at the time, it is more likely to have been on the small island of Papa Westray, but both the saga-context and the st. suggest that Rǫgnvaldr and his men saw the monks on Westray itself. — [7] élum ‘storms’: The emendation was first suggested in Orkn 1887. It is likely that the scribe of R702ˣ merely omitted or missed the abbreviation mark for ‘m’, as he did with ‘baru’ in l. 5.

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