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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Starkaðr gamli Stórvirksson (StarkSt)

volume 8; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross;

Víkarsbálkr (Vík) - 33

not in Skj

Starkaðr inn gamli ‘the Old’ Stórvirksson (StarkSt) was a legendary Scandinavian hero, known to Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and possibly Anglo-Saxon traditions. Some sources (e.g. Saxo Grammaticus (Saxo 2015, I, vi. 5. 2, pp. 378-9), one version of Heiðr and Víkarsbálkr (Vík) in Gautr) claim that he was born a giant with six or eight arms, which the god Þórr reduced to two by tearing off the remainder. Both in Saxo and in Gautr, Starkaðr is represented as a hero of prodigious strength and bravery, but influenced by the gods Óðinn and Þórr to commit acts of gross treachery, the best-known of which is his mock sacrifice of his friend, King Víkarr, at Óðinn’s instigation. The mock sacrifice turns into the real thing, and, as a consequence, Starkaðr is repudiated by his warrior companions. Saxo and the Icelandic sources also know Starkaðr as a poet. Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 251, 259) heads its list of poets and their patrons with Starkaðr’s name as that of the earliest poet whose identity people remember, adding that he composed about the kings of Denmark. In Ht Snorri Sturluson names a verse-form, Starkaðar lag, after Starkaðr (SnE 2007, 38), while in TGT Óláfr Þórðarson quotes a fragment (StarkSt Frag 1III) which he attributes to him. In Gautr the autobiographical poem Víkarsbálkr ‘Víkarr’s Section’ (VíkVIII) is attributed to Starkaðr.

Víkarsbálkr — StarkSt VíkVIII (Gautr)

Not published: do not cite (StarkSt VíkVIII (Gautr))

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SkP info: VIII, 281

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

30 — StarkSt Vík 30VIII (Gautr 38)

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance

 

Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Gautreks saga 38 (Starkaðr gamli Stórvirksson, Víkarsbálkr 30)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 281.

Nú sótta ek         til Svíþjóðar,
Ynglinga sjöt,         til Uppsala.
Hér láta mik,         sem ek lengi mun,
þöglan þul,         þjóðans synir.

Nú sótta ek sjöt Ynglinga, til Svíþjóðar, til Uppsala. Synir þjóðans láta mik hér þöglan þul, sem ek mun lengi.

I now sought the residence of the Ynglingar, [made my way] to Sweden, to Uppsala. The prince’s sons allow me [to stay] here [as] a silent poet, as I shall [be] for a long time.

Mss: 590b-cˣ(6v) (Gautr); 152(200ra)

Readings: [3] sjöt: ‘sio᷎’ 152    [6] ek: om. 152

Editions: Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 13. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Gautrekssaga II 22: AII, 328, BII, 348, Skald II, 187, FF §27, NN §5; FSN 3, 36, Gautr 1900, 32, FSGJ 4, 33; Edd. Min. 43.

Context: As for Gautr 34.

Notes: [2] til Svíþjóðar ‘to Sweden’: In Old Norse the name designated the region around Lake Mälaren in the east, not the whole of modern Sweden. — [3] sjöt Ynglinga ‘the residence of the Ynglingar’: The Ynglingar were the ancient ruling house of the Svíar, based in Old Uppsala, and celebrated in Þjóð YtI, which gives the names of twenty Swedish Ynglingar at Uppsala and six rulers over Norway. Legendary and historical sources claim that the Norwegian royal house that was dominant in the historical period descended from the Swedish dynasty. The pl. form Ynglingar appears only here in Old Norse poetry, although the sg. ynglingr ‘ruler, prince’ is more common; for a discussion, see Introduction to Þjóð YtI. — [5] láta ‘allow’: Skj B and Skald emend this, the reading of both mss, to létu ‘they allowed’, although the pres. tense makes good sense. — [6] mun ‘shall [be]’: The reading of both mss; some eds prefer the variant form man (common in Old Norwegian, cf. ANG §524. 2) with the same sense (so Gautr 1900, Edd. Min. and FSGJ, following FSN). — [7] þöglan þul ‘a silent poet’: This line is in kviðuháttr. The adj. þǫgull ‘silent, discreet’ expresses a quality regarded as praiseworthy in early Nordic society, and is associated with the qualities of wisdom and discretion; cf. Hávm 6/4, 15/1. Here, however, the phrase þögull þulr implies a negation of a poet’s normal function of praising his patron at court. The sense to be attributed to þulr here is debatable (see Halvorsen 1976a, and, most recently, Poole 2010a). Where it occurs in the Poetic Edda corpus it usually means ‘wise man, sage’ (cf. LT: þulr), and frequently refers to supernatural beings who have lived a long time, as Starkaðr also has (e.g. Hávm 5-6 (NK 39): at három þul | hlæðu aldregi ‘never laugh at a hoary sage’). The noun’s other possible meaning, ‘poet’, is (probably) supported by Hávm 111/1-2 (NK 34): Mál er at þylia | þular stóli á ‘It is time to recite on the poet’s [or sage’s] seat’ (at the beginning of the Loddfáfnir section of Hávm) and by two examples in the skaldic corpus, Rv Lv 29/1II, where Rǫgnvaldr uses the word of himself, and HaukrV Ísldr 18/5IV, where it is used of Þorleifr jarlsskáld. ON þulr and its cognate, OE þyle (cf. Beowulf ll. 1165, 1456, where it is used of Unferð, spokesman for the Danish king Hroðgar and formal challenger of Beowulf, and in vernacular glosses where it is given as equivalent to Lat. orator ‘orator’ or scurra ‘buffoon, jester’), both seem to have covered the roles of ‘spokesman, sage’ and ‘poet’ at the courts of kings, and then perhaps in Old Norse to have later lost the sense of ‘spokesman, sage’, to judge by the two skaldic examples, which are of C12th date (or possibly later, in the case of Ísldr). Thus the external evidence could support either meaning in Gautr 38/7. The poem itself in its present form is probably no earlier than the two skaldic examples, but its creator could have been drawing on older material or he could have been consciously archaising. In support of the sense ‘poet’, Starkaðr refers to himself in the following stanza (Gautr 39/8) as greppr jöfurs ‘the prince’s poet’, and this role is supported by external evidence, particularly from Saxo, where it is claimed (Saxo 2015, I, vi. 5. 6, pp. 382-3) that Óðinn made Starkaðr famous both for his strength of spirit and also for his poetry: non solum animi fortitudine, sed etiam condendorum carminum peritia ‘not only for the strength of his spirit, but also for his knowledge of the songs needing to be composed’ (ed.’s translation), the implication being that Óðinn endowed Starkaðr with the power of certain kinds of poetry, probably magical, in order to bring about Víkarr’s death. Poole (2010a, 253-6) offers a review of the Old Norse representation of Starkaðr as a þulr.

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