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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sǫrla þáttr (Sǫrla) - 1

Sǫrla þáttr (Sǫrla)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Rory McTurk

part of: Flateyjarbók

verse introduction manuscripts contents

The stanza edited here (Anon Sǫrl 1 (Sǫrla 1)) is preserved in Sǫrla þáttr ‘The Tale of Sǫrli’ (Sǫrla), which in turn is preserved in the Flateyjarbók (Flat) version of ÓT, compiled by Jón Þórðarson in 1387-8 (Rowe 2002, 38). Sǫrla is not to be confused with either Sǫrla saga sterka ‘The Saga of Sǫrli the Strong’, which has the same Sǫrli, son of Erlingr, as its hero (Rowe 2002, 41-2), or with the quite unrelated Sǫrla þáttr Brodd-Helgasonar ‘The Tale of Sǫrli Brodd-Helgason’ (Damico 1993, 638). Sǫrla as preserved in Flat consists of nine chapters, in the fourth of which the present stanza, the only verse passage in Sǫrla, is quoted. According to the prose of Sǫrla, the stanza is quoted from Sǫrlastikki ‘The Poem of Sǫrli’ and records the death in battle of Sǫrli Erlingsson, who, however, is not mentioned by name in the stanza’s text. No other trace of Sǫrlastikki, twice mentioned in the prose of Sǫrla, survives. The meaning of the element ‑stikki m., given here as ‘poem’, is unclear, but evidently refers to a particular type of poem or metrical form (see LP: stikki). In the prose text of SnSt Ht stikkalag ‘needle metre’ (SnE 2007, 38, 74-5, 151; cf. NN §§2095, 2324) is the name of a metre in which the main stave in the even-numbered line falls on a syllable other than the first (see Anon (Knýtl) 1/1II and second Note to l.1), though this is not the case in the present stanza, the metre of which is in fact Haðarlag ‘Hǫðr’s metre’ in ll. 1-5 and 7, but not in ll. 6 and 8 (see Note to [All] below). On stikki see further SnSt Ht 98III, Note to [All], the Introduction to Anon HarstII, and the Note to HSt Rst 12/4I. See also Leslie-Jacobsen (2014-15, 40-1), who argues that the attribution of the stanza in Sǫrla to Sǫrlastikki is erroneous, but does not deny that a poem of that name once existed.

The first two chapters of Sǫrla tell how Freyja obtained a necklace (perhaps the famous Brísingamen, though it is not so named in Sǫrla) and how it was stolen by Loki at the request of Óðinn, who told her that to recover it she must provoke a battle between kings which would continue for ever unless interrupted by a powerful king’s Christian retainer. Chapters 3 and 4, which culminate in the quotation of the present stanza, first tell in ch. 3 how Sǫrli sterki ‘the Strong’, son of King Erlingr of Upplǫnd in Norway, defeated the Viking Sindri, grandson of the sea-king Haki, in a battle in which Sindri and Sǫrli’s younger brother, Erlendr, were slain, and how Sǫrli then went raiding in the Baltic. In ch. 4 it is told how Sǫrli coveted a dragon-ship belonging to King Hálfdan of Denmark and obtained it after bringing about Hálfdan’s defeat and death in battle; how he offered terms to Hálfdan’s son Hǫgni, which were refused, whereupon Sǫrli and Hǫgni fought, sem segir í Sǫrlastikka ‘as it says in Sǫrlastikki’, in a battle in which Hǫgni’s brother Hákon slew Sǫrli’s standard-bearer Sævarr, whereupon Sǫrli slew Hákon, Hǫgni then slew Sǫrli’s father Erlingr, and Sǫrli, wounded and brought low by Hǫgni, was healed at Hǫgni’s instigation; and how Sǫrli and Hǫgni then swore oaths of brotherhood to which they held fast as long as they lived. Sǫrli, we are told, was the shorter-lived of the two (see the Note to l. 2, below); he fell to vikings in the east (see Note to l. 3, below), sem segir í Sǫrlastikka ok hér segir ‘as it says in Sǫrlastikki and says here’. The stanza is then quoted, after which it is told how Hǫgni waged war victoriously in the Baltic east, where he became king. Chapters 5-9 tell how Freyja, assuming the name Gǫndul, persuaded the sea-king Heðinn, the son of King Hjarrandi of Serkland, to abduct Hǫgni’s daughter Hildr. The resulting battle between the two kings Heðinn and Hǫgni, the Hjaðningavíg ‘battle of Heðinn’s followers’, was magically prolonged for 143 years until finally brought to an end by Ívarr ljómi ‘Gleam’, a retainer of the Christian king Óláfr Tryggvason.

‘Lacking evidence to the contrary’, writes Rowe (2002, 40), ‘we must assume that the story of Hálfdan’s dragon-ship in Sǫrla þáttr is more or less that of Sǫrlastikki’. Kölbing (1876, 197-200) has shown that the story told in the anonymous SǫrlarímurRímur of Sǫrli’, preserved in AM 604 g 4° (c. 1540-60), is essentially the same as that in ch. 4 of Sǫrla, though considerably more detailed, and argued that both the rímur and Sǫrla derive from Sǫrlastikki, which Sǫrla has reproduced in shortened and compressed form. Björn K. Þórólfsson (1934, 296), on the other hand, who dated the Sǫrlarímur to the mid-fourteenth century, maintained that they were based on a fuller version of Sǫrla than that which survives, a version which was itself heavily influenced by Sǫrlastikki. Rowe (2002, 41) has shown that the structure of the story told in Sǫrla saga sterka, ‘though elaborated, is fundamentally the same’ as that in ch. 4 of Sǫrla. If the death described in the stanza edited here is indeed that of Sǫrli, which is not certain but strongly suggested by the prose of Sǫrla, it may be concluded that Rowe is right in maintaining that the story told in ch. 4 of Sǫrla is essentially that of Sǫrlastikki. It is most unlikely, as Kölbing (1876, 198-9) has shown, that the stories of Freyja’s necklace and the Hjaðningavíg, which precede and follow the story of Sǫrli in Sǫrla, formed part of the poem referred to as Sǫrlastikki.

Dating the stanza edited here is problematic. On the assumption that it formed part of Sǫrlastikki and predated the composition of Sǫrla, the simplest course is to follow Finnur Jónsson (LH II, 159, 830) in dating Sǫrlastikki to the second half of the thirteenth century, Sǫrla to no older than the first half of the fourteenth, and Sǫrla saga sterka to the fifteenth. This would be consistent (allowing for some minor adjustments) with the view that Sǫrlastikki influenced the Sǫrlarímur either directly (Kölbing 1876, 197-200) or indirectly (Björn K. Þórólfsson 1934, 296), and with Björn K. Þórólfsson’s dating of Sǫrlarímur to the mid-fourteenth century (see above), as well as with Finnur Jónsson’s view (LH II, 830) that Sǫrlastikki was influenced by Hrafnsmál of Sturla Þórðarson (d. 1284), composed in Haðarlag some time after 1264 (see the Introduction to Sturl HrafnII).

Leslie-Jacobsen (2014-15, 40-1), on the other hand, denying that the stanza is from Sǫrlastikki (see above), accepts that it shows the influence of Sturl HrafnII and maintains that it could even be contemporaneous with the prose of Sǫrla, the latest possible date for which must be 1387-8, the date of the compilation of ÓT in Flat (cf. Rowe 2002, 38; Gouchet 1997, 320). She does not commit herself to a date for Sǫrla, however, and presumably regards the Sǫrlarímur, which she does not mention, as irrelevant to her argument. As it is, she seems to imply that the stanza could have been composed at any time between 1264 and 1387-8. The stanza contains one archaism (if miskunnar, normalised here to miskunnir ‘mercies’ in l. 6, may be regarded as such, see Note to l. 6, below). The spelling fyst (l. 2) for fyrst is secured by internal rhyme (fyst: lyst-). The assimilation of -rs- to -ss- may be dated to some time in the thirteenth century. It is usually regarded as having been completed by 1300, but may occur as early as c. 1200; cf. ANG §272.3; BjKálf Lv 1/2II (dated 1182) and Note there. The possible echo of Sturl Hrafn 7/8II (see Note to ll. 5, 6 below) may also support a thirteenth-century dating.

The present edition is based on Flat (GKS 1005 fol). Sǫrla is additionally preserved in the following mss: Reykjavík (Stofnun Árna Magnússonar): KBAdd 5 4°ˣ, and Reykjavík (Landsbókasafn Íslands): Lbs 840 4°ˣ, Lbs 1491 4°ˣ, Lbs 1572 4°ˣ; Akureyri (Héraðskjalasafn Skagfirðinga): HSk 452 4°ˣ; Copenhagen (Den Arnamagnæanske Samling): AM 313 4°ˣ, AM 587 e 4°ˣ, and Copenhagen (Det Kongelige Bibliotek): GKS 1015 fol.ˣ, GKS 1017 fol.ˣ, NKS 1205 fol.ˣ, NKS 1760 4°ˣ, NKS 1761 4°ˣ, NKS 1807 4°ˣ, Thott 1776 4°ˣ; Stockholm (Kungliga biblioteket): Papp. 4° nr 38, Papp. 4° nr 9; Bergen (Universitetsbiblioteket): UBB Ms. 58ˣ; London (British Library): BL Add. 11108ˣ; Paris, BSG: MS. 3714ˣ. All these mss are assumed to derive ultimately from Flat, and have not been used in the present edition.

The editio princeps of Sǫrla is found on pp. 49-58 of the separately paginated second part (1690) of ÓT 1689 on p. 52. It was next published as the final item in Rudbeck (1697) under the title Sagan af Hiedine og Hogna ‘The saga of Heðinn and Hǫgni’. Editions used in preparing the text below (in addition to Skj and Skald) are Rafn’s normalised edition of 1829 (FSN 1), the diplomatic edition of Guðbrandur Vigfússon and C. R. Unger (Flat 1860-8, I) and the following editions in normalised spelling: by Sigurður Nordal (Flat 1944-5, I); by Guðni Jónsson (FSGJ 1); and by Barwell (1976), to whom the present editor is grateful for granting him access to his edition. Barwell’s Introduction, facing English translation, and Notes have been found helpful, as has Phelpstead’s (2010) reprinting, with Introduction, of William Morris’s and Eiríkr Magnússon’s translation of Sǫrla. Other editions and translations are listed in the bibliography of the Stories for All Time database, accessed 23 July 2016.

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