Cite as: Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Ǫrvar-Odds saga 59 (Gyðja, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 874.
The following dialogue comprising twelve stanzas is attributed to Ǫrvar-Oddr and either Álfr bjálki, king of Bjálkaland (so ms. 7, which has only the first four stanzas) or his wife, according to the other mss. After his success in the drinking contest and other feats at the court of King Herrauðr of Húnaland ‘Land of the Huns’ (Garðaríki ‘Russia’ in the younger mss), Oddr sets out on an expedition to a region called Bjálkaland (the name is probably cognate with Russian bělka ‘squirrel, fur-bearing animal’; cf. AEW: Bjalkaland) in order to collect tribute from King Álfr, which the latter has refused to pay for a long time. According to the saga prose, King Herrauðr has offered to betroth his daughter Silkisif to the man who succeeds in collecting the tribute, so Oddr decides to try his luck.
The rulers of Bjálkaland, King Álfr, his wife (named Gyða in 7 and Gyðja ‘Priestess’ in the other mss) and their son Víðgrípr, are pagans and sorcerers (þau eru fjǫlkunnig, svá at þau líma saman stóð ok stjǫrnur ‘they are so skilled in magic arts, that they can stick together a stud of horses and the stars’ Ǫrv 1888, 171). It is thus particularly difficult for Oddr and his party to overcome Álfr and his army, because they use sorcery and visual illusions to confuse their enemies. Eventually, however, Oddr is able to use his own magical weapons, the arrows Gusisnautar ‘Gusir’s gifts’ and his three stone arrows, given to him by an old man named Jólfr (see Note to Ǫrv 65/3), to kill or disable the rulers of Bjálkaland.
There is considerable divergence between the prose narrative and the poetry of the oldest version of Ǫrv, preserved in ms. 7, and the texts of the other mss 344a, 343a, 471 and 173ˣ. Ms. 7 tells that Oddr kills Gyða and her son Víðgrípr with his stone arrows, while Álfr survives to participate in the verse dialogue. Afterwards, he and Oddr engage in single combat and Oddr eventually kills him with an oaken club. According to all other mss, however, Oddr knocks Álfr down with the stone arrows (without killing him) and it is Gyðja, represented in these mss as a hofgyðja ‘temple priestess’, who engages in dialogue with Oddr, who (in all versions) has set fire to the pagan temples and shrines in the town. At the end of their verse encounter, Gyðja escapes into the main temple (hof) where Oddr eventually kills her by crushing her back with a large stone boulder that he has hurled at her from the temple roof. He later finds Álfr still alive and beats him to death with his club.
Most previous editors have attributed stanzas 59, 61, 63a, 64, 66 and 70 to Gyðja. Skj B adopts a position that lacks ms. authority, in that st. 59 is attributed to Álfr while st. 61 and the following sts 63a, 64, 66 and 70 are assigned to Gyðja. Skald gives the same attribution in a note preceding the stanzas. The situation of the mss is as follows: 7 has only the first four stanzas, of which 59 and 61 are ascribed to Álfr and 60 and 62 to Oddr. However, sts 61 and 62 in the version of 7 both contain additional lines that occur in the other mss as parts of stanzas (Ǫrv 66 and 69) that 7 does not have. In each case the additional lines are defective. It should also be noted that 7 precedes the dialogue stanzas and also follows them with stanzas that appear in the younger mss as part of Oddr’s Ævdr sts 69/1-4 and 68 (Ǫrv 139 and 138). These stanzas relate to the Bjálkaland adventure. The other mss (344a, 343a, 471 and 173ˣ) contain eleven full stanzas and one helmingr, except that 173ˣ lacks Ǫrv 69. The dialogue is ascribed here to Gyðja and Oddr.
The variations in both the prose narrative and the poetry between 7 and the other mss can be interpreted in different ways. Edd. Min. lxvi-lxix points to various illogicalites in 7, including the probable misunderstanding of the word gyðja ‘priestess’ used as a proper name, in its name Gyða for Álfr’s wife, and the odd sequence of Oddr’s killings and use of key weapons, as well as awkwardness in the wording of the stanzas, as evidence that 7’s version of events and speakers is defective. On the other hand, it could be argued that the version of 7, in which Álfr engages with Oddr, may well be closer to the saga’s original conception (and Ævdr 69 (Ǫrv 139) supports this), while the importance of Gyðja as a heathen priestess is strengthened in the later mss, and the exchange of stanzas between her and Oddr reads like a polemic against the pre-Christian religion of Scandinavia of a kind that is hardly likely to have belonged to poetry of a period earlier than the twelfth century. Lassen (2009, 256-67) offers a detailed analysis of the Christian ideology that underpins both verse and prose of this section of Ǫrv.
In this edition, 7 has been chosen as the main ms. for the first four stanzas, although the additional lines in sts 61 and 62 are not given as part of the main text, but are presented in Notes. Ms. 344a is the base ms. for sts 63-70, which are lacking in 7.
|Hverr veldr eldi, hverr orrostu,
hverr jarls magni eggjum beitir?
|Hof sviðnuðu, hörgar brunnu; |
hverr rauð eggjar á yngva nið?
Hverr veldr eldi, hverr orrostu, hverr beitir eggjum magni jarls? Hof sviðnuðu, hörgar brunnu; hverr rauð eggjar á nið yngva?
Who is causing the fire, who [causes] the battle, who is swinging blades with the power of a jarl? Temples were ablaze, sanctuaries burned; who reddened blades on the descendant of a prince?
Mss: 7(56r), 344a(23v), 343a(78v), 471(91r), 173ˣ(57r) (Ǫrv)
Readings:  hverr jarls magni: hverr jarls megin 344a, 343a, 471, 173ˣ, ‘giori hvermegin’ 344a  eggjum: eðr 344a, oddum 343a, oddu 471, ‘ognum’ 173ˣ; beitir: bettra 344a  sviðnuðu: Svíþjóðar 344a  hörgar brunnu: hörga brenna 344a  hverr: Oddr 344a, 343a, 173ˣ  á yngva nið: ok eyddi hof 344a, á yngva liði 343a
Editions: Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 10. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Ǫrvar-Oddssaga VIII 1: AII, 303, BII, 322, Skald II, 172; Ǫrv 1888, 181, Ǫrv 1892, 91, FSGJ 2, 327-8; Edd. Min. 74.
Introduction to sts 59-70.
Notes: [All]: As mentioned in the
Introduction, this and sts 61, 63a, 64, 66 and 70 are attributed to the pagan
priestess Gyðja in all mss except for 7, which attributes sts 59 and 61 to Álfr
bjálki. Whoever is the speaker, this stanza is uttered immediately after he or
she has witnessed all the temples and sanctuaries of their town (borg) ablaze at Oddr’s orders. As often, the version of
344a is somewhat different from the other witnesses. —  hverr ‘who’: With the exception of 7 and
471, all the other mss read Oddr
here, but this cannot be correct, as the answer to the question is given by
Oddr, identifying himself, in the following stanza. —  á nið yngva ‘on the descendant of a prince’: Presumably a
reference to Álfr bjálki. If he is the speaker of the stanza, then he refers to
himself; if Gyðja, she refers to her husband. In the case of the younger mss,
ll. 7-8 are somewhat at variance with the prose text, which indicates that Álfr
was seriously wounded by Oddr’s stone arrows, whereas the eggjar ‘blades’ of l. 7 suggests sword-play.