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Ketils saga hœngs (Ket)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Beatrice La Farge

verse introduction manuscripts contents

The forty-one stanzas from Ketils saga hœngs ‘The Saga of Ketill Salmon’ (Ket) edited below all appear in the oldest ms. of the saga, AM 343 a 4° (343a) of c. 1450-75. Since this ms. with few exceptions also provides the best readings, the text which appears there is the one edited here. In the instances in which 343a evidently presents an erroneous reading, the second oldest ms., AM 471 4° (471) of c. 1450-1500, can usually serve as a basis for the edition. There are over seventy known manuscripts of Ket, and these are all listed on the web site of the project Stories for All Time, accessed 20 August 2016. Anderson (1990, 1-2) distinguishes between four redactions or ms. traditions, whose oldest representatives are 343a (A), 471 (B), AM 567 IV 4° (567IV) (C), which contains a fragment of GrL (cf. Introduction to GrL), and GKS 1006 folˣ (1006ˣ) (E). The relation of these redactions to one another was discussed by Boer in his edition of Ǫrv (Ǫrv 1888) and has been criticised by Anderson (1990, 245-63). Manuscripts consulted and cited in the Notes to this edition include: 1006ˣ of the seventeenth century; AM 342 4°ˣ (342ˣ) of 1653, Holm papp 32 4°ˣ (papp32ˣ, of 1686), AM 173 folˣ (173ˣ) of c. 1700 (a copy of 1006ˣ, cf. Anderson 1990, 215), AM 340 4°ˣ (340ˣ) of the seventeenth century, two codices from the seventeenth century bound together as AM 109 a 8°ˣ (109a Iˣ and 109a IIˣ; cf. Anderson 1990, 2, 73-5, 145), and AM 552 q 4°ˣ (552qˣ), also of the seventeenth century. Earlier editors (Rafn, Boer, Edd Min, Skj A) use 173x as the representative of the E redaction, as 1006x was not known or not available to them (see Anderson 1990, 216; Edd Min xxxvii, lxix; Skj AII, 279-87). For this reason 173x is mentioned in the present edition. A detailed discussion of the ms. tradition can be found in Anderson 1990 (overview pp. 1-13). The only major ms. which Anderson (1990, 273) does not discuss in some detail is 340ˣ. Although not all forty-one stanzas appear in all the mss, the order in which they appear never varies.  Ms. NKS 1778 b contains stanzas which are radically different from those in other mss; however, it is uncertain whether they represent a genuine medieval tradition or were not perhaps composed by Björn Jónsson á Skarðsá (d. 1655; see Anderson 1990, 271-8, 417-25).

The metre of the stanzas in Ket as they appear in 343a and 471 varies between fornyrðislag (or málaháttr) and ljóðaháttr. There are many instances of metrical irregularities in the Ket stanzas. Unlike many earlier editions, especially Skj B and Skald, and in line with the practice outlined in the Introduction to SkP VIII, this edition does not attempt to remove all these irregularities. Although both mss 343a and 471 are of the fifteenth century, and other mss are even later, normalisation of the verse texts is to a standard appropriate to the period 1250-1300 rather than to the fourteenth century or later (see Section 8 on Normalisation in the Introduction to SkP VIII).

The stanzas preserved in Ket fall into recognisable groups. They are all speeches by one or other of the protagonists. Some are agonistic in character. Ket 1-12 and 28-41 are spoken in similar episodes at the beginning and at the end of the saga respectively: in each case Ketill meets with a hospitable and benevolent man (Brúni, Bǫðmóðr) who warns him against a malevolent and dangerous brother or father (Gusi(r), Framarr) with whom Ketill does battle and is victorious. Ket 14-15 and 34-41 are spoken in the course of two combats against unwanted suitors (Áli, Framarr) for the hand of Ketill’s daughter. Ket 13 and 16-27 are uttered in encounters with a troll and a giantess respectively. There are many parallels between the agonistic verse dialogues of Ketill and his heroic or supernatural opponents and some of the poetic sennur ‘flytings’ of the Poetic Edda collection, particularly in the poems HHund I and II and HHj. The speakers of the various stanzas are: Ketill, Brúni, his brother Gusi(r), an unnamed troll, the giantess Forað, Bǫðmóðr and his father Framarr.

The subject-matter of Ket and its stanzas is both traditional and likely to be of some antiquity, although we no longer have access to either the verse or the prose in versions earlier than the fifteenth century. Stories about Ketill hœngr occur in other Icelandic texts: in Ldn, where he is named as a grandfather of the Icelandic landnámsmaðr Ketill hœngr (ÍF 1, 346-7 and n. 3), and in Eg, where Ketill’s father Hallbjǫrn hálftroll ‘Half-troll’ from Hrafnista is mentioned in ch. 1 (ÍF 2, 3) as the brother of Hallbera, wife of Egill’s paternal grandfather Kveldúlfr. Later, in Eg ch. 61 (ÍF 2, 195), mention is made of the provenance of Egill’s sword Dragvendill (or Dragvandill; see Note to Ket 36/1), which descended in Egill’s family, originally as a gift from Ketill’s son Grímr loðinkinni ‘Hairy-cheek’ to Þórólfr Kveldúlfsson. The M (Mǫðruvallabók) version of Eg shows an awareness of the fact that Ketill used Dragvendill in single combats (í hólmgǫngum) and that it was the sharpest (bitrast) of all swords, phrasing perhaps suggesting a knowledge of Ket 34-41. Ket ch. 3 tells that Dragvendill originally belonged to the Saami king Gusi(r), whose three magical arrows were also taken by Ketill after he had killed Gusi (on the name Gusi(r) see Note to Ket 3b/1). Kennings for arrows used by skalds of the eleventh and twelfth centuries show that there must have been a story about Gusi(r) and his arrows, but we cannot know whether Ketill played any part in it (see Note to Ket 27/1, 3).

The following editions have been cited here: FF §§16, 42-3, 45; FSN 2, 117, 119-22, 125-30, 134-9, FSGJ 2, 158-64, 167-72, 175-81, Anderson 1990, 47-59, 89-108, 432-43; Edd. Min. 77-85, 95. CPB II, 556-9 and Valdimar Ásmundarson (1885-9, 2, 137-60) are mentioned occasionally in the Notes.

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