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Runic Dictionary

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Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson (Þjsk)

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

I. 3. Drápa about Sveinn tjúguskegg (Sveindr) - 1

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.

Drápa about Sveinn tjúguskegg — Þjsk SveindrI

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘ Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, Drápa about Sveinn tjúguskegg’ 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. 373. <> (accessed 28 October 2021)

stanzas:  1 

Skj: Þórleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson: 2. Drape om Sven tveskæg (AI, 141, BI, 133); stanzas (if different): [v]

SkP info: I, 374

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Þjsk Sveindr 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Kate Heslop (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, Drápa about Sveinn tjúguskegg 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. 374.

Opt með œrnri giptu
ǫðlings himins rǫðla
Jóta gramr inn ítri
Englandi rauð branda.

{Inn ítri gramr Jóta} rauð branda opt Englandi með œrnri giptu {ǫðlings {rǫðla himins}}.

{The splendid ruler of the Jótar} [DANISH KING = Sveinn] reddened blades often in England with ample luck {of the Lord {of the discs of the sky}} [HEAVENLY BODIES > = God].

Mss: Flat(27vb) (Flat); 4867ˣ(100v), 563aˣ(2) (ÞorlJ)

Readings: [2] ǫðlings: ǫðling 4867ˣ    [3] Jóta: so 563aˣ, jótra Flat, Jóta corrected from jǫtna 4867ˣ;    gramr: corrected from ‘grier’ 4867ˣ;    inn: om. 563aˣ;    ítri: ‘eytre’ 4867ˣ    [4] Englandi: á Englandi 4867ˣ, 563aˣ;    rauð: so 4867ˣ, roðit Flat, rjóða 563aˣ

Editions: Skj: Þórleifr jarlsskáld Rauðfeldarson, 2. Drape om Sven tveskæg: AI, 141, BI, 133, Skald I, 73; SHI 3, 97, Flat 1860-8, I, 210, ÞorlJ 1883, 119, 157, ÍF 9, 219, ÍS III, 2269 (ÞorlJ).

Context: Soon after arriving at Sveinn’s court, Þorleifr asks his permission to recite a poem about him. It is well received and Sveinn gives Þorleifr a ring and a sword in payment. 

Notes: [All]: As noted above, the stanza is introduced as a, or the, stef ‘refrain’ from a forty-stanza drápa. — [1] œrnri ‘ample’: (a) This is taken here, as in ÍS, as the f. dat. sg. form of œrinn ‘ample, sufficient’. Although the normal form would be œrinni, syncope by analogy with forms such as m. nom. pl. œrnir is possible (cf. ANG §428.2 Anm. 1 for forms such as ýms(r)a beside ýmissa; cf. also ModIcel. gen. pl. ærnra). (b) The eds of Skj B, Skald and ÍF 9 emend to f. acc. sg. œrna; með can govern either acc. or dat. sg. — [1] giptu ‘luck’: As the ‘luck’ here is God’s, the sense is presumably Christian: grace or blessing from God, which brings Sveinn victory. This has been compared with crusader literature (Ejerfeldt 1971, 142; see also Lange 1958a, 50-3). Sveinn was almost certainly a Christian (Sawyer and Sawyer 2003, 151), but judging by his þáttr Þorleifr had no opportunity to come into contact with the new faith, other than this visit to Denmark. — [2] ǫðlings rǫðla himins ‘of the Lord of the discs of the sky [HEAVENLY BODIES > = God]’: The kenning rǫðla himins is at first sight unsatisfactory, since rǫðull can itself mean ‘sun’ or (in pl.) ‘heavenly bodies’, but rǫðull may have the more specific meaning ‘disc, circle’, deriving from its etymological links with words denoting circular objects (AEW: rǫðull 1). Fidjestøl (1982, 102) thinks this kenning seems young, and it is true that non-mythological kennings for the heavenly bodies (including some using hvél ‘wheel’ as base-word) are more frequent in late, especially Christian, poetry (Meissner 103-4, 378-82), though it is possible that the present stanza is an early instance of this trend. — [3] Jóta ‘of the Jótar’: I.e. the people of Jótland (Jutland). Flat’s ‘jotra’ makes no sense, while king-kennings with Jótar are both common and appropriate to the Danish King Sveinn, so the paper mss seem to preserve the original reading here. Previous eds also read Jóta, regarding it as an emendation. — [4] Englandi ‘in England’: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s first mention of Sveinn raiding in England is in 994 (ASC ‘E’, ‘F’, s. a.), while Þorleifr was apparently killed in Iceland by agents of Hákon jarl, who died c. 995. This chronology renders Þorleifr’s authorship of the present stanza somewhat unlikely, though it has been argued that Sveinn took part in an earlier attack on English soil c. 991 (ÍF 9, xcvii; Sawyer 1993, 41), and it could be this which is referred to here. — [4] rauð ‘reddened’: (a) This, the 4867ˣ reading, is to be preferred, and it is adopted in most previous eds. Since the textual relations are elusive it is not clear whether it is in fact a scribal emendation. (b) Flat has roðit, the p. p. of the same verb, rjóða ‘to redden’, but because this would require resolution in position 4 it is metrically less satisfactory (see Gade 1995a, 60-6), and an auxiliary is lacking.

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