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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Stefnir Þorgilsson (Stefnir)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Diana Whaley;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 2

Skj info: Stefnir Þórgilsson, Islænder, omkr. 1000. (AI, 153-154, BI, 146).

Skj poems:

The biography of Stefnir Þorgilsson (Stefnir) is narrated in Kristni saga (Kristni, ÍF 15, II, 15-17) and in ÓT and ÓTOdd, from which a Stefnis þáttr Þorgilssonar (Stefn) can be assembled (ÍF 15, I, clxxxi-clxxxiv, II, 103-10; cf. Flat 1860-8, I, 285 for a section about Stefnir headed þáttr). Stefnir was the son of Þorgils Eilífsson, son of Helgi bjóla (meaning uncertain), from Kjalarnes, western Iceland. The name Stefnir is not certainly recorded in Norway or Iceland until the fourteenth century, and where it occurs in the kings’ sagas it appears to be an Icelandicised form of the name Stephen, borne by Englishmen (so ÍF 15, II, 103 n. 1). Stefnir travelled with Þorvaldr víðfǫrli ‘Wide-travelling’ Koðránsson (Þvíðf). He was converted to Christianity and sent by King Óláfr Tryggvason to evangelise his homeland c. 996, but met with shipwreck and a hostile reception (see Anon (ÓT) 1), was prosecuted for his Christianity by his kinsmen and sentenced to lesser outlawry; he then returned to Óláfr. The two stanzas below are attributed to Stefnir during a period of disconsolate wandering after the king’s death c. 1000, and are of very different kinds. Stefnir and his slander of someone identified as Sigvaldi jarl (Lv 1) were regarded as the fabrication of Gunnlaugr Leifsson (d. c. 1218/9) by Baetke (1970, and cf. Gottskálk Þór Jensson 2006, 52-3), but see the refutation by Andersson (2003, 21-5).

Lausavísur — Stefnir LvI

Diana Whaley 2012, ‘ Stefnir Þorgilsson, Lausavísur’ 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. 447. <> (accessed 21 January 2022)

 1   2 

Skj: Stefnir Þórgilsson: Lausavísur (AI, 153-154, BI, 146)

SkP info: I, 450

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — Stefnir Lv 2I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Stefnir Þorgilsson, Lausavísur 2’ 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. 450.

The stanza (Stefnir Lv 2), addressed to a Danish woman, exults in the rigours of seafaring compared with the ease of a woman’s embrace (see Note to l. 8). The prose Context (below) connects the stanza with Stefnir’s verse exposé of Sigvaldi jarl, but there is nothing in the stanza to substantiate that (see Gottskálk Þór Jensson 2006, 46 and n. 1). As with Lv 1, Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 472) was confident in its authenticity, and dated it c. 1001, though it is uniquely preserved in ms. Holm18 of ÓTOdd.

Ek skil œrit gǫrla,
— erumk leið* fǫður reiði —
— harðr skyli drengr á dýrðir —
danskr hæll, hvat þú mælir.
Heldr vilk við stoð standa
staglútr drifinn úti,
váða Gerðr, an verðak
varmr á þínum armi.

Ek skil œrit gǫrla, danskr hæll, hvat þú mælir; reiði fǫður erumk leið*; drengr skyli harðr á dýrðir. Heldr vilk standa við stoð, staglútr drifinn úti, {Gerðr váða}, an verðak varmr á þínum armi.

I understand clearly enough, Danish lady, what you are saying; [your] father’s anger is hateful to me; a warrior should be hardy in glorious actions. I wish rather to stand beside the post, leaning like a forestay, storm-beaten out at sea, {Gerðr <goddess> of garments} [WOMAN], than to get warm in your arms.

Mss: Holm18(50v) (ÓTOdd)

Readings: [2] leið*: leiðr Holm18    [4] hæll: ‘hø᷎ll’ Holm18    [5] við: vil Holm18

Editions: Skj: Stefnir Þórgilsson, Lausavísur 2: AI, 153-4, BI, 146, Skald I, 80, NN §§471, 2447; ÓTOdd 1932, 195, ÍF 25, 309, ÍF 15, II, 109.

Context: The stanza is occasioned by Sigvaldi jarl’s anger at Stefnir Lv 1 (see Context). Stefnir, falling into a trap set by the jarl, accepts his daughter’s invitation to sit beside her and recites this stanza. The jarl has him killed.

Notes: [2]: The presence of a female interlocutor implied by the rest of the stanza, and its generally secular tenor, tend to support the assumption made in the prose Context that the irate father referred to here is a human one. However, the closely parallel and, if authentic, closely contemporary erumk leið sonar reiði ‘hateful to me is the Son’s wrath’ in Hfr Lv 9/6V (Hallfr 12) definitely refers to Christ, and might encourage the speculation that the scruples of the missionary Stefnir are specifically religious, as suggested by Jón Helgason (1968, 44). For another line based on the rhyme leið: reiði, see Eþver Lv 1/2, and for another reference to the anger of a woman’s father, see Eindr Lv. — [3] harðr á dýrðir ‘hardy in glorious actions’: Í plus dat. might have been expected rather than this construction, cf. greiðr ok harðr í námi ‘ready and determined in study’, cited from Mirmans saga in Fritzner: harðr 3. Skj B emends to hvatr ‘zealous’, but hvatr á is not common either, and fails to provide skothending (the emendation is rejected by Kock in Skald and NN §471). — [4] hæll ‘woman’: As noted in ÍF 15, II, 109 n., the graph ‘ø᷎’ in Holm18 can reasonably be read as æ (ae ligature), though it more often signifies œ (oe ligature). Hæll supplies the necessary aðalhending and fits well semantically. It means ‘widow’, but here, like ekkja elsewhere, apparently refers to a woman in general (LP: 2. hæll). — [5] við ‘beside’: Ms. vil is a simple case of dittography. — [5] stoð ‘the post’: A nautical sense such as ‘mast’ might be inferred here, but the word normally refers to a support (physical or moral), a staff, or a post or column in a building (Fritzner: stoð). Kock (Skald; NN §2447B) instead reads stǫð ‘landing-place, berth’. — [5] standa ‘stand’: Kock (Skald; NN §2447B), noting the lack of hending in this line, suggests that staldra ‘stop, pause’ has been replaced by the more common verb, but in the ONP citations, staldra is first recorded in the C16th, while stallra is the earlier form.  — [6] staglútr ‘leaning like a forestay’: The stag n. is the stay or rope that stretches from the mast-top to the prow (LP: stag; Jesch 2001a, 165). For a suggested emendation of staglútr to ‑lút see Jón Helgason (1968, 44), but also Jesch’s refutation (2001a, 165-6 n. 80). Helgi Skúli Kjartansson (1973) suggests ‘bent double’; cf. Jón Þór Jóhannsson (1977). — [6] úti ‘out at sea’: This could simply mean ‘outside’, but the word drifinn ‘storm-beaten’ and the condensed simile in staglútr ‘leaning like a forestay’ encourages the assumption that the helmingr is about seafaring. — [7] Gerðr: Although of giant kin, Gerðr was the wife of the god Freyr (SnE 2005, 30-1), and her name functions, here and elsewhere, like that of a goddess, as the base-word in woman-kennings (LP: Gerðr). — [8] varmr á þínum armi ‘warm in your arms’: Lit. ‘warm on your arm’. For two further stanzas constrasting masculine deeds with warm embraces, see Vígf Lv 1/7 and Note.

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