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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.

notes
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, 420

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

10 — ÚlfrU Húsdr 10III

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Edith Marold (ed.) 2017, ‘Úlfr Uggason, Húsdrápa 10’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 420.

Þar hykk sigrunni svinnum
sylgs valkyrjur fylgja
heilags tafns ok hrafna.
Hlaut innan svá minnum.

Þar hykk valkyrjur ok hrafna fylgja {svinnum sigrunni} sylgs heilags tafns. Hlaut svá innan minnum.

There I believe valkyries and ravens follow {the wise victory-tree} [WARRIOR = Óðinn] to the drink of the holy sacrifice. Thus [the hall] received [decoration] inside with memorable pictures.

Mss: R(21r), Tˣ(21v), W(45), B(4r) (SnE)

Editions: Skj: Ulfr Uggason, 1. Húsdrápa 9: AI, 138, BI, 129, Skald I, 72, NN §§1891, 2754; SnE 1848-87, I, 238-9, II, 519, III, 6-7, SnE 1931, 90, SnE 1998, I, 9.

Context: See st. 9.

Notes: [1] svinnum sigrunni ‘the wise victory-tree [WARRIOR = Óðinn]’: This use of a warrior-kenning for Óðinn (cf. st. 1/1 Hildar hjaldrgegnir ‘promoter of the noise of Hildr <valkyrie> [(lit. ‘noise-promoter of Hildr’) BATTLE > = Óðinn > POEM]’) has puzzled scholars (Hofmann 1984, 316; Krause 1934, 117-18), but the alternative solutions they suggest are not convincing (see below). Kennings of this type are indeed used for human warriors (e.g. for Hákon jarl in Eskál Vell 25/3I and for warriors in Gizsv Lv 1/5I), but, although rare, warrior-kennings can also refer to gods (see Meissner 251-2). — [2, 3] sylgs heilags tafns ‘to the drink of the holy sacrifice’: A variety of different explanations have been suggested for this phrase. The present edn takes the words heilags tafns in their denotative meaning as ‘the holy sacrifice’. Although tafn in skaldic poetry usually refers to corpses that have been left for wolves and ravens (LP: tafn 1), in one case the word in fact occurs in the sense ‘sacrifice’ (LP: tafn 3). Beyond this singular attestation there is evidence for the use of tafn both in Christian and in heathen sacrificial contexts in (mostly Christian) prose texts (Fritzner: tafn). Heilagt tafn ‘holy sacrifice’ has often been explained as a term for Baldr’s corpse (so Skj B; Skald; Neckel 1920, 45-6), but the traditions surrounding Baldr’s funeral give no indication that he was sacrificed; he is shot, his death is mourned by the gods and they try to bring him back. Neckel (1920, 46) adduced the influence of Christian thought in an attempt to explain why Baldr was referred to as tafn, but this is unlikely, because in the early days of Christianity in the North Christ was rather seen as a mighty conqueror of death and of Satan. Likewise, Krause’s (1934, 119) theory that the ‘holy sacrifice’ was Kvasir, whose blood was used to make the mead of poetry, cannot be correct, because there is no evidence that Kvasir was sacrificed. Since there are no known myths that connect heilagt tafn with either Baldr or Kvasir, the best explanation is that the phrase refers to a ‘holy sacrifice’ in connection with Baldr’s funeral. Unfortunately, there are almost no written accounts of sacrifices at heathen funerals, but there are many finds in mounds of animal skeletons that can be interpreted as sacrifices. Steuer (2003a, 90) points to numerous horse funerals in connection with warrior graves all over Scandinavia (for Iceland, see Müller-Wille 1970-1, 163-9). In all these cases the horses could be funeral gifts intended for the dead, but they could also be the remains of sacrifices that had taken place during the funeral ceremonies (Steuer 2003a, 54). Even more telling are finds of unburned horse bones near or in cremation burials in Birka, Sweden. Gräslund (1980, 60) regarded these as possible remains of horse sacrifices. These interpretations of archaeological finds are corroborated by the early C10th account of Ibn Fadlān, an Arab who wrote a detailed report on his journey as an ambassador of Caliph al-Muqtadir (908-20). He describes a funeral feast for a Rusj (?) chieftain on the shores of the river Volga in Russia. The dead chieftain was seated, magnificently dressed, in a ship which had been dragged ashore and placed on big wooden blocks. Then a dog, a cow, a cock and a hen were slaughtered and cast into the ship, likewise two horses, cut into pieces (Charles-Dominique 1995, 62; for the reliability of this source see Bæk Simonsen 1981, 46-51). This is especially interesting as it accords with the evidence of the Icelandic horse burials where it seems that sometimes only legs or other pieces were buried (Müller-Wille 1970-1, 165). In the light of the cumulative force of all this evidence, the present edn takes tafn to refer to a heathen funeral sacrifice, possibly of a horse. In this context it should also be mentioned that st. 11/5-8, as it is interpreted in this edn, refers to the slaying of a horse. There are several interpretations of sylgr ‘gulp, drink’. (a) If tafn refers to an animal sacrifice (see above), sylgr could refer to a drink administered in connection with the sacrifice itself. In HákgóðHkr (ch. 17, ÍF 26, 171), for example, King Hákon is forced to participate in a heathen ceremony, and he has to eat parts of a sacrificial horse (hrossaslátr) and drink a broth (soðit). Such a broth could be what is meant by sylgs heilags tafns ‘drink of the holy sacrifice’. This interpretation could be contradicted by another tradition attested in connection with Baldr’s horse being burnt at the funeral: After listing the hesta heiti in Gylf (SnE 2005, 17), Snorri says: Baldrs hestr var brendr með honum ‘Baldrs horse was burned with him’. Further, in connection with Baldrs funeral it is said that Baldr’s horse was led to the funeral pyre (Gylf SnE 2005, 47): Óðinn lagði á báli gullhring þann er Draupnir heitir … Hestr Baldrs var leiddr á bálit með ǫllu reiði ‘Óðinn laid the gold ring called Draupnir on the pyre … Baldr’s horse was led to the pyre together with all its tackle’. This context suggests that Baldr’s horse was thought of as a funeral gift and not as a sacrifice, and it was possibly not identical with the horse of st. 11/5-8. (b) Most previous scholars have taken sylgs heilags tafns to mean ‘blood’, either of the sacrificed Baldr (Skj B), of something sacrificed to Óðinn (Hofmann 1984, 319) or of Kvasir (Krause 1934, 119). But an interpretation of heilagt tafn as Baldr or Kvasir is not possible (see above). (c) Kock (NN §1891) offers an entirely different explanation of sylgr, which he connects with heilags tafns and takes to mean ‘guzzler, devourer’ (‘devourer of the holy sacrifice’) as a reference to the funeral pyre. However, sylgr is a noun denoting the action of the strong verb svelga ‘swallow, drink’, and it is not an agent noun as Kock translates it (cf. Hofmann 1984, 315, Krause 1934, 117 and Turville-Petre 1976, 69). However one interprets the phrase sylgs heilags tafns, the question remains how the gen. sylgs ought to be understood. Finnur Jónsson (Skj B; LP: sylgr) takes it as an absolute gen. used adverbially, meaning ‘toward, in the direction of’ (cf. NS §141), and the present edn follows him. No attempt to conjoin sylgs heilags tafns and sigrunni has so far yielded a convincing explanation. Krause (1934, 119-20) interprets sigrunni sylgs heilags tafns as a kenning for Óðinn, ‘victory-tree [WARRIOR] of the drink of the holy sacrifice [= Kvasir > POETRY > = Óðinn]’. This interpretation is contradicted by the fact that Kvasir cannot be the ‘holy sacrifice’ (see above). Likewise, Hofmann’s (1984, 319-20) attempt to solve the problem by emending sigrunni to sigrenni is unconvincing. He suggests the interpretation svinnum sigrenni sylgs heilags tafns ‘to the wise (god) who lets the blood of the holy sacrifice flow’.

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