Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Þorfinnr munnr (Þorf)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Diana Whaley;

Lausavísur (Lv) - 2

Skj info: Þórfinnr munnr, Islandsk skjald, d. 1030. (AI, 315, BI, 292).

Skj poems:

Þorfinnr munnr ‘Mouth’ (Þorf) is numbered among the Icelandic hirðmenn ‘retainers’ of King Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr) in one of the Articuli ‘extracts’ from Styrmir Kárason’s Lífssaga (Flat 1860-8, III, 244). Most of them are skalds, and Þorfinnr is said to be the brother of one Þórðr and to be skaalld mikit ‘a great poet’. The brothers came from northern Iceland, and fought and died at Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030). Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261), as well as listing Þorfinnr under Óláfr helgi, also names him, in the U redaction (ibid., 266), as poet to Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (d. c. 995), but the existence of a variant, ‘Þorolfr munnr’, in the 761aˣ redaction (ibid., 256), together with the fact that a former retainer of Hákon who fought at Stiklastaðir would be well over fifty in 1030, leave it somewhat uncertain whether these are one and the same person.

Lausavísur — Þorf LvI

Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þorfinnr munnr, 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. 845.

 1   2 

Skj: Þórfinnr munnr: Lausavísur (AI, 315, BI, 292)

SkP info: I, 845

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Þorf Lv 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Diana Whaley (ed.) 2012, ‘Þorfinnr munnr, Lausavísur 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. 845.

The stanza (Þorf Lv 1) belongs to the genre of ekphrasis or picture-describing literature (see Introduction to Þjóð HaustlIII; Poole 2007a). Its prose context places it in the reign of Óláfr Haraldsson (d. 1030), and it is dated c. 1025 in Skj. Its attribution to Þorfinnr munnr is shared by ÓHÆ (NRA52) and the articuli from Styrmir Kárason preserved in Flat (ms. Flat), so that ‘Þormóðr’ (ms. ‘Þormor’) in ÓHLeg (DG8) seems to be in error. There is some divergence between the Flat text and that of NRA52 and DG8; NRA52 is seriously defective; and none of the texts makes instant sense – all of which makes interpretation difficult, especially in ll. 2-4. Flat, however, has a somewhat better text on the whole and is adopted here as main ms. The stanza is also preserved in ms. 141ˣ of Fóstbrœðra saga (Fbr), but the version seems to be copied directly from Flat and is not of independent value.

Geisli stendr til grundar
Gunnar jarðar munna;
ofan fellr blóð á báðar
benskeiðr, en gramr reiðisk.
Hristisk hjǫrr í brjósti
hringi grœnna lyngva,
en folkþorinn fylkir
ferr við steik at leika.

{Geisli {jarðar Gunnar}} stendr til {grundar munna}; blóð fellr ofan á {báðar benskeiðr}, en gramr reiðisk. Hjǫrr hristisk í brjósti {hringi grœnna lyngva}, en folkþorinn fylkir ferr at leika við steik.

{The sunbeam {of the land of Gunnr <valkyrie>}} [SHIELD > SWORD] stabs into {the ground of jaws} [HEAD]; blood flows down onto {both wound-ships} [SWORDS], and the prince grows angry. The sword quivers in the breast {of the ring of green heathers} [SERPENT], and the battle-daring leader proceeds to amuse himself with roasting.

Mss: Flat(187va) (ÓH); NRA52(1r) (ÓHÆ); DG8(91v) (ÓHLeg)

Readings: [1] Geisli stendr: ‘[...]tendr’ NRA52    [2] Gunnar: ‘grvn[...]’ NRA52, grimma DG8    [2, 3] jarðar munna ofan fellr blóð á báðar: ‘[...]’ NRA52    [3] fellr: so DG8, fell Flat;    báðar: báða DG8    [4] benskeiðr: ‘[...]seiðr’ NRA52, benseiðr DG8;    en gramr: konungs NRA52, konungr DG8;    reiðisk: reiði NRA52, reiðan DG8    [5, 6, 7] hjǫrr í brjósti hringi grœnna lyngva en: ‘[...]’ NRA52    [7] folk‑: ‘[...]’ NRA52    [8] ferr: ‘fær’ DG8;    at leika: ‘[...]’ NRA52

Editions: Skj: Þórfinnr munnr, Lausavísur 1: AI, 315, BI, 292, Skald I, 149, NN §§781, 1936B; Fms 5, 234, Fms 12, 114, Flat 1860-8, III, 244, ÓH 1941, II, 691; ÓHÆ 1893, 2; ÓHLeg 1922, 58; ÓHLeg 1982, 138-9.


Seated in his high-seat with Þorfinnr (‘Þormor’ presumably for Þormóðr in ÓHLeg) in front of him, King Óláfr Haraldsson tells the skald to compose about the scene on the wall-hangings. Þorfinnr looks and, seeing Sigurðr’s slaying of the dragon depicted there, speaks this stanza.

Notes: [All]: The stanza describes the slaying of the dragon Fáfnir, guardian of the Rhine-gold, by the legendary Vǫlsung hero Sigurðr Fáfnisbani ‘Slayer of Fáfnir’, which is narrated in Fáfn, SnE 1998, I, 46 and Vǫlsunga saga (Vǫls 1965, 30-2). References to the same story are intercalated with praise of King Haraldr Sigurðarson in the C11th Illugi Har 2II. — [1-4]: (a) The construal adopted here follows that of Kock (NN §781; Skald). It is slightly forced, especially in its reference to báðar benskeiðr ‘both wound-ships [SWORDS]’, since ‘ship’ as a base-word of a sword-kenning is unparalleled, and the reference to two swords corresponds to nothing in the legend of Sigurðr. ‘Both’ would make sense if referred to the two edges of a sword-blade, and Kock seems to imply that by referring to grammatically pl. terms for ‘sword’ such as þremjar ‘cutters’ (Þul Sverða 11/1III, and see Note; also LP: þremjar), but benskeiðr ‘wound-ships’ would seem more likely to denote whole swords. (b) The analysis by Finnur Jónsson (Skj B) is also problematic, however. He emends jarðar to jarðir in l. 2, and ben- to baugs- and s(k)eiðr to seiðs in l. 4. This gives munna seiðs grundar ‘jaws of the fish of the ground [SNAKE]’ and (báðar) jarðir baugs ‘(both) lands of the ring [ARMS]’, which fit well in context, but at the price not only of heavy emendation but also of a highly counter-intuitive word order, in which seiðs and jarðir are detached from their clauses. — [3] ofan ‘down’: In the legend, Sigurðr fights the dragon from below. — [6] lyngva ‘of heathers’: This word (nom. sg. lyng n.) occurs quite frequently in kennings for ‘snake, serpent’, and is perhaps especially appropriate here, since in Fáfn 21/2, 28/6 and 29/2 (NK 184-5) it is í lyngvi that the dragon Fáfnir lies. Lyng applies to the plant Erica ‘heather’ and similar moorland species, and hence also to land overgrown with these plants. — [8] steik ‘roasting’: This seems to be an allusion to the hero Sigurðr roasting the heart of the slain dragon (cf. Fáfn 32).

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