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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Úlfr Uggason (ÚlfrU)

10th century; volume 3; ed. Edith Marold;

Húsdrápa (Húsdr) - 12

Skj info: Ulfr Uggason, Islandsk digter, o. 1000. (AI, 136-9, BI, 128-30).

Skj poems:
1. Húsdrápa
2. Lausavísa

The skald Úlfr Uggason (ÚlfrU) lived around the year 1000 in Western Iceland. Little is known about his life. According to Ldn (S 76, H 64, ÍF 1, 111) he was married to Járngerðr, the daughter of Þórarinn Grímkelsson. Njáls saga (ch. 60, ÍF 12, 152) mentions his losing a lawsuit against Ásgrímr Elliða-Grímsson. The episode told in Njáls saga (ch. 102, ÍF 12, 261-4) about Úlfr refusing a request by Þorvaldr veili ‘the Miserable’ to use force against the missionary Þangbrandr, portrays him as a cautious man. That request and Úlfr’s dismissal of it are recounted there in two lausavísur (Þveil LvV, ÚlfrU LvV; see also Kristni saga ch. 9, ÍF 15, 2, 20-1). According to Laxdœla saga (ch. 29, ÍF 5, 79-80), he must have been on good terms with Óláfr pái ‘Peacock’ and his family, for whom he composed Húsdrápa ‘House-drápa’ (c. 980), a poem celebrating the myths depicted in images within their hall at Hjarðarholt.

my abbr

Húsdrápa — ÚlfrU HúsdrIII

Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 402.

 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12 

Skj: Ulfr Uggason: 1. Húsdrápa, 983 (AI, 136-8, BI, 128-30); stanzas (if different): 3 | 4 | 5 | 8 | 9 | 10

SkP info: III, 407

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

2 — ÚlfrU Húsdr 2III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2017, ‘Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa 2’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 407.

This is the sole remaining stanza from a passage about a conflict between Heimdallr and Loki. According to Snorri, Úlfr Uggason made a lengthy composition about this episode (SnE 1998, I, 19): Úlfr Uggason kvað í Húsdrápu langa stund eptir þeiri frásǫguÚlfr Uggason composed a long section about that story in Húsdrápa’; hence there may originally have been several more stanzas devoted to this event (cf. Turville-Petre 1964, 128-9). Unfortunately we learn very little about this myth from SnE. In his discussion of kennings for Heimdallr, Snorri explains (SnE 1998, I, 19): Hann er ok tilsœkir Vágaskers ok Singasteins; þá deildi hann við Loka um Brísingamen ‘He is also a seeker of Vágasker (‘Wave-skerry’) and Singasteinn; at that time he quarrelled with Loki over Brísingamen’. He also mentions (ibid.), with reference to Húsdr, that þeir váru í sela líkjum ‘they took the form of seals’. Brísingamen ‘necklace of the Brísingar’ is Freyja’s necklace (for detailed information see Pering 1941, 212-14) and it is usually associated with the Loki-kenning girðiþjófr Brísings ‘girdle-thief of Brísingr’ in Þjóð Haustl 9/6-7 (see Note there). Snorri’s remark about Heimdallr and Loki quarrelling over the necklace Brísingamen at a place called Singasteinn and, in addition to that, the fact that Brísingamen itself is the object of various mythological speculations, has caused numerous problems for the interpretation of the stanza. Although the stanza itself is not explicitly about Brísingamen, many editors have nonetheless tried to identify Singasteinn or hafnýra or both with that necklace (see Notes to ll. 2 and 6). Scholars who have followed Snorri and assumed that the stanza is about the necklace Brísingamen have interpreted the struggle between Heimdallr and Loki variously as the theft of fire (Much 1898, 54-5; Cöllen 2007, 72-6), as a quarrel over a piece of amber (de Vries 1933, 129) or an amulet (Pering 1941, 215-20), as a myth about the setting sun (Ohlmarks 1937, 132), as a myth about the seasons (Ström 1956, 145) and as a myth about Heimdallr as the ruler of the future world (Thorvaldsen 2003, 187-9). Other scholars have found Snorri’s claim about Loki and Heimdallr quarrelling over Brísingamen speculative, which is probably correct. From Haustl he would have known Loki as the thief of Brísingamen; hence he could have introduced the necklace as the reason for the conflict. Loki is notorious as the thief among the gods in the Old Norse pantheon, and Snorri (SnE 1998, I, 20) lists the Loki-kennings þjófr jǫtna, hafrs ok Brísingamens ok Iðunnar epla ‘thief of the giants, of the ram and of Brísingamen and of the apples of Iðunn’. This may indicate that a series of structurally similar narratives existed about Loki as the thief of precious goods (de Vries 1933, 135). However, there is no direct evidence for the quarrel between Heimdallr and Loki over Brísingamen assumed by Snorri.

Ráðgegninn bregðr ragna
rein at Singasteini
frægr við firna slœgjan
Fárbauta mǫg vári.
Móðǫflugr ræðr mœðra
mǫgr hafnýra fǫgru
(kyndik áðr) ok einnar
átta (mærðar þôttum).

{Ráðgegninn, frægr vári ragna} bregðr rein við {firna slœgjan mǫg Fárbauta} at Singasteini. {Móðǫflugr mǫgr átta mœðra ok einnar} ræðr {fǫgru hafnýra}; kyndik áðr þôttum mærðar.

{The counsel-wise, renowned defender of the gods} [= Heimdallr] takes away land from {the amazingly cunning son of Fárbauti <giant>} [= Loki] at Singasteinn. {The courage-strong son of eight mothers and one} [= Heimdallr] rules {the beautiful sea-kidney} [STONE]; I revealed [that] earlier in the strands of the praise-poem.

Mss: R(22v), Tˣ(23r), W(49) (SnE)

Readings: [1] ragna: ‘raugna’ Tˣ, ‘rogna’ W    [3] slœgjan: so W, slœgjum R, ‘slogian’ Tˣ    [4] mǫg: so W, mǫgr R, Tˣ    [6] haf‑: ‘haft‑’ W    [7] kyndik: kynni ek R, W, kunni ek Tˣ;    ok: so Tˣ, en R, at W

Editions: Skj: Ulfr Uggason, 1. Húsdrápa 2: AI, 136-7, BI, 128, Skald I, 71, NN §§420, 1890, 1952, 2502C, 3214; SnE 1848-87, I, 268-9, III, 20-1, SnE 1931, 100, SnE 1998, I, 20.

Context: This stanza exemplifies a kenning for Loki (þrætudolgr Heimdalar ok Skaða ‘quarrel-opponent of Heimdallr and of Skaði’) in Skm (SnE), and after it Snorri notes that Heimdallr is called ‘son of nine mothers’.

Notes: [1] bregðr ‘takes away’: This verb’s meaning is critical for the interpretation of the first helmingr. Its basic sense is ‘change the position or path of sth., remove sth.’, always with a dat. object (see examples in Fritzner: bregða 1, ONP: bregða). Finnur Jónsson (LP: bregða 1) suggests an intransitive usage with the meaning ‘go somewhere’ for this stanza, but adds that the verb is not attested elsewhere with this meaning. Others interpret bregða við as ‘quarrel against’, clearly inspired by Snorri’s account that Heimdallr quarrelled with Loki over Brísingamen (NN §1952; Faulkes 1987, 77; SnE 1998, II, 250; Schier 1976a, 580-1; Heizmann 2009, 510), yet there is no evidence for this meaning (Fritzner: bregða). Any interpretation of this helmingr must account both for bregða needing a dat. object and for the two prepositional phrases with at and við. There are two possible dat. objects, namely, Singasteini and rein f. ‘strip, plot of land’ (despite Cöllen’s 2007, 65 assumption that the dat. of rein must have ended in ‑u, rein could be an endingless ō-stem; see ANG §376). Barring emendation (see Note to l. 2 rein), rein ‘strip, plot of land’ is the verb’s only possible object, since Singasteini is part of the prepositional phrase at Singasteini (see Note to l. 2 at Singasteini). The second prepositional phrase, við combined with a Loki-kenning (see Note to ll. 3-4), is more difficult to explain. In this context it is important that Snorri presents Loki as the opponent of Heimdallr. Shortly after stating that Heimdallr quarrelled with Loki, Skm (SnE 1998, I, 20) refers to Loki as þrætudolgr Heimdalar ‘quarrel-opponent of Heimdallr’. In light of this and the original meaning of bregða ‘remove sth., take sth. away’ (see Fritzner: bregða 6.), this edn assumes the verbal construction bregða e-u við e-n ‘to take sth. away from sby’. Another possible meaning of bregða e-u við e-n is ‘quarrel over sth. with sby’. Lindquist (1937b, 83) shows that bregða was used idiomatically in this sense in two passages in Grágás. The first helmingr would then describe how Heimdallr takes away land from Loki or quarrels with him over land (see also Schier 1976a, 580). — [1, 4] vári ragna ‘defender of the gods [= Heimdallr]’: For the word vári ‘defender’, see Arn Hryn 13/5II and Note there. The long vowel is ensured by the metre (long vowel in the cadence), which precludes Cöllen’s (2007, 64) suggestion of a short [a] here, as in ON varr ‘wise, knowledgeable’ or ‘cautious’. Vári ‘defender’ needs the determinant ragna ‘of the gods’ to denote Heimdallr, just like vǫrðr goða ‘defender of the gods’ in Grí 13/4 (NK 60), Lok 48/6 (NK 106) and Skm (SnE 1998, I, 19). Kuhn’s (1983, 296) alternative suggestion is vári ‘sworn companion’, probably from várar ‘oaths’. Several eds try to incorporate rein ‘strip of land’ (l. 2) into the kenning vári ragna. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; LP: reinvári) assumes tmesis by joining rein with vári ‘defender’ (l. 4) and ragna ‘of the gods’ (l. 1), and he construes the Heimdallr-kenning ragna reinvári ‘defender of the path of gods [= Bifrǫst <bridge of the gods>]’ (cf. SnE 1848-87, III, 20-1 and Mogk 1880, 331). Kock (NN §420) rightly objects to this tmesis (with almost all subsequent eds concurring), but he nonetheless interprets ragna rein as ‘bridge of the gods’ and as the object of bregðr. Based on the idiom bregða búi ‘abandon the farm’ he takes the first helmingr to mean that ‘the defender (vári) abandoned the bridge of the gods in the fight with Loki’. In a later interpretation (NN §1952) he emends rein to reinar to achieve the Heimdallr-kenning vári reinar ragna ‘defender of the bridge of the gods’, but as de Vries (1933, 126) rightly objects, this emendation results in a hypermetrical l. 2, because elision of ‑ar and at is not possible in early dróttkvætt (see Kuhn 1936b, 138). Kock’s (NN §3214) subsequent objections to the criticism voiced by de Vries and Kuhn do not disprove their statements about the impossibility of elision, but Kock’s version has nonetheless been adopted by other scholars (e.g. Schier 1976a, 580; Cöllen 2007, 66). This metrical issue leads to a similar emendation of the mss’ ‘rein at’ to reinar, with Singasteini being taken as the dat. object of bregðr and thus not as a locative, but rather in the meaning ‘decorative stone, jewel’ (de Vries 1933, 127; Pering 1941, 210; Schjødt 1981, 62 n. 52 is critical). To sum up: Incorporation of rein into the kenning ragna vári ‘defender of the gods’ for Heimdallr leads either to tmesis (Finnur Jónsson) or to emendations which cause metrical problems (Kock; de Vries). Another objection against the interpretation of rein ragna as ‘bridge of the gods’ or ‘path of the gods [HEAVEN]’ (Ohlmarks 1937, 124) is that rein is never attested with the meanings ‘bridge’ or ‘path’ (cf. de Vries 1933, 126). Therefore the incorporation of rein into the kenning for Heimdallr is extremely problematic, and rein must be taken as the sole object of bregðr ‘remove, take away’ (see Note to l. 2 rein). — [2] rein ‘land’: The word means ‘plot, narrow strip of land’ but has the broader sense ‘land’ in skaldic poetry (see LP: rein). As shown in the Note to ll. 1, 4 above, rein is the sole object of bregðr ‘he takes away’, and the meaning of the helmingr must be that Heimdallr takes land away from Loki. The fact that rein can refer to land that acts as a boundary marker between two parcels of land which nobody was allowed to destroy (Fritzner: rein) may be of interest, but one has to take into account that in the second helmingr this rein seems to be an island or a rock in the sea, the hafnýra ‘sea-kidney [STONE]’ (see Note to l.6). Furthermore, the fact that the two gods fight in the form of seals leads to the conclusion that this quarrel took place in or near the sea. This may corroborate Schier’s (1963) argument that the quarrel between Loki and Heimdallr over a strip of land may have originated in a cosmogonic myth in which both gods serve a divine creator, for (or together with) whom they raise the earth from the sea (cf. Vsp 4) and, in doing so, end up disputing a parcel of land. The story is familiar from a series of folk tales conforming to a mythological pattern found across Europe, Asia and North America. This explanation is supported by Snorri’s remark in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 19) that Úlfr Uggason’s poem portrays the gods fighting as seals, which would fit well with the myth of the raising up of the earth (Marold 2000b; 2000c). For other explanations of the stanza, see Introduction to st. 2 above. — [2] at Singasteini ‘at Singasteinn’: The preposition at ‘at’ and Snorri’s (Skm, SnE 1998, I, 19) Heimdallr-kenning tilsœkir Vágaskers ok Singasteins ‘seeker of Wave-skerry and of Singasteinn’ both indicate that Singasteinn is a p. n. The etymology of Singasteinn is uncertain. Finnur Jónsson (LP: Singasteinn) traces it to Goth. sineigs ‘old’ (so also AEW: Singasteinn), while Tolley (1996, 87) suggests a connection with sía f. ‘cinder, spark’ and de Vries (AEW: Singasteinn) considers this as well. Pering (1941, 219-20) takes Singasteinn as ‘magical stone, amulet’ and connects it with the verb signa ‘bless, consecrate’, which is unlikely because signa is a loanword from Latin (AEW: signa 1). — [3-4] firna slœgjan mǫg Fárbauta ‘the amazingly cunning son of Fárbauti [= Loki]’: In Gylf (SnE 2005, 26) Loki is referred to as the son of the giant Fárbauti (lit. ‘dangerously beating one’). This Loki-kenning is otherwise found only in Þjóð Haustl 5/2. — [6, 7, 8] mǫgr átta mœðra ok einnar ‘the son of eight mothers and one [= Heimdallr]’: There are several references to Heimdallr as the son of nine mothers. Gylf (SnE 2005, 25), Skm (SnE 1998, I, 19) and Hyndl 35-8 describe his birth at the edge of the world, where nine giant-maidens, whose names are listed, give birth to him (his nine mothers are also mentioned in the Heimdalargaldr fragment, cited in Gylf, SnE 2005, 26). On the various explanations of this myth see ARG II, 242. — [6] hafnýra ‘the sea-kidney [STONE]’: Most scholars agree that this is a stone-kenning, and they have pointed to such parallels as Þjóð Yt 18/6I hjarta lagar ‘heart of the water’ or Eil Þdr 16/2 fjarðepli ‘fjord-apple’ (Ohlmarks 1937, 124; Schier 1976b, 583). These stone-kennings seem not to depend on the hardness of the objects a stone is being likened to, but on their form. Yet, opinion differs about what ‘stone’ means in the present helmingr. (a) This edn understands the stone as referring to rein ‘land’ from the first helmingr, i.e. the object of Loki’s and Heimdallr’s quarrel (see Note to l. 2 rein; Schier 1976a, 583-4; Marold 2000a, 296-7; Marold 2000b, 284). This interpretation can be supported by the use of hjarta lagar ‘heart of the water’ to denote an island in Þjóð Yt 18/6I. Hence, hafnýra could refer to a rock in the sea, which would fit very well with the depiction of the quarrel as a fight between seals and one of them in the end ruling over this rock. (b) Other scholars take Snorri’s remark about Brísingamen being the object of contention to mean that hafnýra is a stone-kenning that could also refer to a jewel (Meissner 91) and hence to Brísingamen (Mogk 1880, 331; Skj BI; LP: hafnýra). In most cases they believe that both hafnýra and Singasteinn refer to the necklace. But Singasteinn cannot denote Brísingamen because of its syntactical combination with the preposition at (see Note to l. 2 at Singasteini). Heizmann (2009, 512-21) tries to show that Freyja’s Brísingamen is connected to birth and regeneration. Loki’s theft would then correspond to his role as the gods’ antagonist and the enemy of regeneration. (c) Ohlmarks (1937, 124), Pering (1941, 211) and Schier (1976a, 584) object to the interpretation of hafnýra as Brísingamen; rather, they interpret hafnýra as ‘stone’, arguing that Snorri must have borrowed the notion of a fight over this necklace from elsewhere (see Introduction to st. 2 above). (d) De Vries (1933, 129) equates hafnýra with ‘amber’. (e) Pering (1941, 217-18), followed by Tolley (1996, 83) and Cöllen (2007, 67-70), compares the term ‘sea-kidney’ with later-attested expressions such as ModNorw. sjøbønner ‘sea-beans’ or vettenyrer ‘sprite-kidneys’ which refer to a stony fruit (Pusaetha scandens) with regenerative and other beneficial properties. On this basis he takes hafnýra for a stone amulet. — [7] kyndik áðr ‘I revealed [that] earlier’: Some scholars (Skj B; Schier 1976a, 581; Thorvaldsen 2003, 176; Cöllen 2007, 61-2) place áðr in the main clause of the second helmingr and take it to mean that Heimdallr had once owned the hafnýra (l. 6). Heizmann (2009, 520-1) translates áðr as dann aber ‘but then’ referring to NK II, 12. But the metre precludes this, as no sentence boundary may fall after the second metrical position in this Type A3 odd line, i.e. after ms. kynnik ‘I make known’ (Kuhn 1983, 151-3; Gade 1995a, 153, 161-3). Thus áðr must belong in the parenthetic clause, and this edn solves the difficulty posed by the mss’ pres. tense kynnik by emending to kyndik ‘I made known’ (1st pers. sg. pret. indic.). Kock (NN §1890, followed by de Vries 1933, 127) emends áðr to óð, which is problematic for semantic reasons. He translates kynnik óð … mærðar þôttum as diktkonst visar jag i drápans delar ‘I display the art of poetry in the parts of the drápa’. That interpretation is untenable, however, because óðr means ‘poem’, not ‘poetry’, and kynna ‘make known’, not ‘display’.

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