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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, 412

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

3 — ÚlfrU Húsdr 3III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2017, ‘Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa 3’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 412.

The following four stanzas (ÚlfrU Húsdr 3-6) deal with one of the best known and, apparently, most popular myths of the tenth century: the story of Þórr fishing for the World Serpent (Miðgarðsormr). We know the myth as represented in Gylf (SnE 2005, 44-5) and, in a somewhat different version, in Hym sts 16-27. Common to both versions is that Þórr and the giant Hymir go out to sea to fish, and that Þórr uses an ox-head as bait. In both versions, the climax comes as the god of thunder and the World Serpent, hanging from the hook, find themselves staring at one another. Several skalds besides Úlfr treat this scene: Bragi (Bragi Þórr), Ǫlvir hnufa (Ǫlv Þórr), Eysteinn Valdason (EVald Þórr) and Gamli gnævaðarskáld (Ggnæv Þórr). We find the myth represented in images on the stones of Altuna (Sweden, Uppland, first half of the eleventh century) and Hørdum (northern Jutland, from sometime between the eighth and eleventh centuries) as well as on the picture stones at the church in Gosforth, England (around 1000), and Ardre VIII (Sweden, Gotland, 750-800). On the pictorial scenes, see Lindqvist (1941, 121), Brøndsted (1955, 102), Buisson (1976) and Marold (1998b).

After this climactic scene depicting the physical and mental struggle between the thunder-god and Miðgarðsormr, the narratives diverge. As is told in Bragi Þórr and Gylf, the giant Hymir becomes afraid and cuts the fishing-line. Hym lacks this detail, but there is a one-line gap where it may have been mentioned. Nor does Húsdr mention the cutting. However, a corresponding stanza could have been lost, because the giant is punished with a powerful blow in this section’s final stanza (st. 6). Gylf also tells of Hymir’s punishment. Sources differ as to the fate of Miðgarðsormr. In Hym the serpent sinks into the sea. In Gylf, Hár, the narrator of the myth, mentions that there are divergent opinions about whether Miðgarðsormr is killed or not. In his own narrative, the serpent survives, as indeed it must: Hár renders the myths as a continuous chain of events, and the World Serpent has a later role to play in the eschatological final battle at Ragnarǫk. Bragi Þórr lacks any corresponding passages. The other poems, Húsdr and Ggnæv Þórr, attest to a version of the myth in which the World Serpent is killed by Þórr.

The myth is generally seen as an expression of an ancient motif in the history of religion, namely, that of a god’s struggle against a sea monster or dragon. Parallels are found in Greek mythology (Apollo slaying the Python) and in the ancient Indian Rigveda (as in Indra’s struggle against Vritra). Schröder (1955) describes it as the battle of a saviour god against the forces of chaos or disorder. The origins of its special rendering as a fishing expedition are disputed. The Biblical Leviathan may have been one inspiration (Bugge 1889a, 10-11; most recently Kabell 1976, 125-6), as may the myths of the raising of the Earth (Schröder 1955, 33-6). Contrary to interpretations of the fishing expedition as a victory over threatening forces, Meulengracht Sørensen (1986, 271-2) saw it as an ‘attempt to dissolve the cosmic order’ and Þórr’s failure to kill the serpent as a ‘confirmation of that order’. That would go against Þórr’s characteristic role as one who delivers the world from threatening forces such as giants, however, and, moreover, not all the preserved texts portray Þórr as failing in the first place.

Something is probably missing from the version of the story told in Húsdr. The cutting of the fishing-line could have been part of the second helmingr of st. 5, and it is unclear whether st. 3 was preceded by additional introductory stanzas similar to those in Bragi Þórr. The poet, basing his version of the story on pictorial representations, may simply have begun his narrative by looking at a carving of the climactic scene.

Innmáni skein ennis
ǫndótts vinar banda;
ôss skaut œgigeislum
orðsæll á men storðar.

{Innmáni ennis} {ǫndótts vinar banda} skein; orðsæll ôss skaut œgigeislum á {men storðar}.

{The interior-moon of the forehead} [EYE] {of the hostile friend of the gods} [= Þórr] shone; the praise-blessed god shot terror-beams at {the necklace of the earth} [= Miðgarðsormr].

Mss: W(169) (SnE); 2368ˣ(97), 743ˣ(76r) (LaufE, l. 1)

Editions: Skj: Ulfr Uggason, 1. Húsdrápa 4: AI, 137, BI, 128, Skald I, 71; SnE 1848-87, II, 499, III, 180-1; LaufE 1979, 276, 355.

Context: The helmingr is cited in Skm (SnE) exemplifying a kenning for ‘eye’, and l. 1 is also cited in LaufE for the same purpose, although there it is attributed to Óláfr Leggsson (probably erroneously so; see Introduction to the poem above).

Notes: [All]: This helmingr strongly resembles Egill Arkv 5/5-8V (Eg 101) þás ormfránn ennimáni allvalds skein œgigeislum ‘as the snake-gleaming forehead-moon [EYE] of the mighty ruler shone with terror-beams’, where the menacing look with which King Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ regards his prisoner Egill Skallagrímsson is represented as a powerful threat. — [1] innmáni ennis ‘the interior-moon of the forehead [EYE]’: This is the only attestation of the word innmáni. It is an ad hoc coinage using máni ‘moon’ as the metaphorical base-word of the eye-kenning, combining it with the determinant enni ‘forehead’. The use of heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars) as base-words in eye-kennings is well attested (Meissner 130). The first element of the cpd innmáni may serve to emphasise the metaphorical use of máni. In contrast to the real moon, this (metaphorical) moon lies within the forehead. — [2] ǫndótts ‘of the hostile’: This adj. otherwise appears only in Þry 27/5, where it qualifies the noun augu ‘eyes’. In Þul Jǫtna I 4/6, Ǫndóttr is the name of a giant (variant in ms. C only). The word is related to ǫndverðr ‘lying opposite’, ‘firmly facing that which lies opposite’ (Fritzner: ǫndóttr). Thus it could be rendered more exactly as ‘hostilely glaring’, which is an apt description of Þórr as he stares at the World Serpent or, disguised as Freyja in Þry, as he lifts the bridal veil to glare at his enemy, the giant Þrymr. — [2] vinar banda ‘friend of the gods [= Þórr]’: Bǫnd are undifferentiated deities who appear especially in connection with controlling and protecting land. They seem to be associated with Þórr in particular (cf. Eskál Vell 8/2I, 14/1-4I; see Marold 1992, 705-7). — [3] skaut œgigeislum ‘shot terror-beams’: This is a metaphorical expression that compares the threatening glare to arrow shots. — [4] men storðar ‘the necklace of the earth [= Miðgarðsormr]’: Numerous kennings for Miðgarðsormr, the World Serpent, reflect the mythological notion of this serpent lying coiled around the earth like a ring (see Meissner 114-16).

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