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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson (Þjsk)

10th century; volume 1; ed. Kate Heslop;

I. 1. Poem about Hákon (Hák) - 2

Skj info: Þórleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, (Ásgeirs son rauðfeldar) Islandsk skjald, sidste halvdel af 10. årh. (AI, 141-3, BI, 132-4).

Skj poems:
1. Hákonardrápa
2. Drape om Sven tveskæg
3. Jarlsníð
4. Lausavísur

Þorleifr jarlsskáld ‘Jarl’s poet’ (Þjsk), son of Ásgeirr rauðfeldr ‘Red-cloak’, was born at Brekka in Svarfaðardalur in northern Iceland in the mid to late tenth century, and must have been alive c. 970-c. 995. It is impossible to be more definite about his dates as neither Svarfdœla saga nor Þorleifs þáttr jarlaskálds (ÞorlJ) in Flat, the only narrative sources, has a consistent chronology (ÍF 9, xcii, xcvii). Many sources mention Þorleifr as a skald: Ldn (ÍF 1, 254), both versions of Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266), Sneglu-Halla þáttr (ÍF 9, 285-6), ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 191), and HaukrV Ísldr 18IV. Some stanzas are attributed to Þorleifr in Hkr, ÓT, TGT and FoGT, but the bulk of the poetry attributed to him and almost all the biographical information about him is preserved only in ÞorlJ (ÍF 9, 312-29).

According to ÞorlJ, Þorleifr flees Iceland for Norway as a young man, but soon leaves for Denmark after a dispute over trading rights ends with Hákon jarl Sigurðarson burning his ship and executing his crew (Lv 5). He is said to have composed a forty-stanza encomium for King Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ of Denmark (Drápa about Sveinn tjúguskegg; Sveindr), but only the stef ‘refrain’ is extant. While staying with Sveinn, he visits Norway and gets his revenge on Hákon by performing a níð poem (Jarlsníð; Jarl) which causes the jarl’s hair to fall out; one stanza is cited in ÞorlJ. After this Sveinn gives Þorleifr his byname, jarlaskáld ‘Jarls’ poet’ and speaks a stanza about the níð (Svtjúg Lv). However, the þáttr’s use of the genitive plural jarla ‘of jarls’ may be incorrect, for TGT calls him jarlsskáld ‘Jarl’s poet’, Skáldatal lists him as a skald of Hákon but not Eiríkr (and the U version calls him ‘Hákonarskáld’), and Þorleifr is not known to have composed poetry about any other jarl (Nj 1875-8, II, 283-4; ÍF 9, xcvii n. 1; see Almqvist 1965-74, I, 197 for a contrary view). The names of poet and þáttr therefore appear with alternation of jarls- and jarla- in printed sources, and the present edition uses jarls- for the poet and jarla- for the þáttr. Þorleifr subsequently returns to Iceland and settles at Höfðabrekka in Myrdalur in the south of the country. He is, according to ÞorlJ, assassinated at the Alþingi by an enchanted wooden golem, a trémaðr with a man’s heart which Hákon has created with the help of his tutelary goddesses, Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr and Irpa (cf. Lv 6). Þorleifr’s burial mound at Þingvellir is said to have still been visible at the time the þáttr was composed, probably in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century (Harris 1993, 672). Much of this narrative is clearly fictional, and there is reason to suspect the genuineness of most of the stanzas attributed to Þorleifr in ÞorlJ (see Notes to Sveindr and Lv 5 and 6). However, widespread references in reliable sources put Þorleifr’s activity as a skald, his association with Hákon, and his composition of níð about the jarl beyond doubt.

Poem about Hákon — Þjsk HákI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘ Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, Poem about Hákon’ 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. 369. <> (accessed 9 December 2021)

 1   2 

Skj: Þórleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson: 1. Hákonardrápa, o. 986 (AI, 141, BI, 132)

SkP info: I, 369

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Þjsk Hák 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Kate Heslop (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, Poem about Hákon 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. 369.

Hôkun, vitum hvergi
(hafizk hefr runnr af gunni)
fremra jarl und ferli
(folk-Ránar) þér mána.
Þú hefr ǫðlinga Óðni
— etr hrafn af ná getnum —
— vesa mátt af því, vísi,
víðlendr — níu senda.

Hôkun, vitum hvergi jarl fremra þér und {ferli mána}; {runnr {folk-Ránar}} hefr hafizk af gunni. Þú hefr senda Óðni níu ǫðlinga; hrafn etr af getnum ná; vísi, mátt af því vesa víðlendr.

Hákon, we [I] do not know of a jarl anywhere more outstanding than you beneath {the track of the moon} [SKY]; {the tree {of the battle-Rán <goddess>}} [VALKYRIE > WARRIOR = Hákon] has made himself eminent by warfare. You have sent nine nobles to Óðinn; the raven eats from provided corpses; prince, because of that you can spread your dominion widely.

Mss: (171r), F(29ra), J1ˣ(102v-103r), J2ˣ(95v) (Hkr); 61(24va), 53(22ra), 54(22va), Bb(33va), Flat(31vb) (ÓT, ll. 1-4)

Readings: [1] kun: Hôkuni 53, 54, Flat    [2] runnr: runn 61, 53, 54, Bb    [3] fremra: ‘fre[…]’ J1ˣ, ‘fermra’ Flat;    und: ‘avndir’ Bb;    ferli: ‘felli’ F, Flat    [4] Ránar: ‘rannar’ Flat;    þér: ‘þr’ J1ˣ, þar 54, Bb;    mána: manna Bb, Flat    [5] ǫðlinga: ‘ꜹð[…]da’ J1ˣ    [7] af: ‘[…]’ J1ˣ

Editions: Skj: Þórleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, 1. Hákonardrápa 1: AI, 141, BI, 132, Skald I, 73, NN §2443A; Hkr 1893-1901, I, 356, IV, 91-2, ÍF 26, 298-9, Hkr 1991, I, 201 (ÓTHkr ch. 50), F 1871, 131; SHI 1, 246, ÓT 1958-2000, I, 238 (ch. 104), Flat 1860-8, I, 239; ÞorlJ 1883, 160-1.

Context: The stanza is cited as evidence of Hákon jarl’s noble qualities, notwithstanding the indignities visited upon his corpse and his posthumous nickname jarl inn illi ‘the bad jarl’.

Notes: [All]: The stanza is attributed to ‘Þorleifr Rauðfeldarson’ in all mss except F, which has (normalised) Svá segir Þorleifr í Rauðfeldardrápu ‘So says Þorleifr in Rauðfeldardrápa’. This title is presumably erroneous, though Stúfsdrápa ‘Stúfr’s Drápa’ (Stúfr StúfdrII) is an instance of a poem named after its author. — [1]: This line lacks skothending, but parallels exist in early poetry (and cf. st. 2/1, and Þjsk Jarl 1/1, noted by Kock in NN §2443). Emendations were suggested by Jón Þorkelsson (1884, 59) and Hjelmqvist (1890, 285-6), but neither is very convincing. — [1] Hôkun ‘Hákon’: The variant Hôkuni ‘than Hákon’ is an unmetrical secondary reading (see Hjelmqvist 1890, 286-7), perhaps arising because Hôkun, rather than þér in l. 4 (cf. þar ‘there’ 54, Bb), was taken as the dat. governed by the comp. fremra ‘more outstanding’. — [5, 8] hefr senda Óðni ‘have sent to Óðinn’: That is, killed. It has been suggested (Falk 1889a; Liberman 1978), based on a reading of Hávm 144-5, that the verb senda ‘to send’ originally meant ‘to make a (human) sacrifice’. However, ‘to send to Óðinn’ is a common skaldic expression referring to the death of warriors in battle (cf. Glúmr Gráf 2/7-8, Tindr Hákdr 11/1-2 and the poems Anon Eirm and Eyv Hákm). It is difficult in this instance to gauge whether sending to Óðinn is to be taken literally or figuratively. — [5, 8] níu ǫðlinga ‘nine nobles’: Ohlmarks (1958, 398), believing that the poem depicts the battle of Hjǫrungavágr (see Introduction), proposes a list of candidates, but it is impossible to be sure who is meant, and the number nine may be a mere formula (see LP: níu; Boberg 1966, 265). — [6]: This line appears with minor variation as Ólhelg Lv 7/2. Hást Lv 4/6IV and Þmáhl Máv 8/6V (Eb 10) are also similar, and Gade (1995a, 101) suggests all represent reworking of a stock phrase . — [7, 8] mátt ... vesa víðlendr ‘you can spread your dominion widely’: Lit. ‘you can be wide-landed’. 

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