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Runic Dictionary

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(subheadings only)

1. [Table of rulers]

Rulers of Norway to 1035

Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhæri ‘High with Honours’ later C9th
Hálfdan svarti ‘the Black’ Guðrøðarson c. 840-c. 860
Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ Hálfdanarson

(Hafrsfjǫrðr c. 885-c. 890)

c. 860-c. 932
Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ Haraldsson c. 929-c. 934
Hákon inn góði ‘the Good’ Haraldsson

(Fitjar c. 961)

c. 934-c. 961
Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’ Eiríksson

(Háls, Limafjǫrðr, c. 970)

c. 961-c. 970
Hákon jarl Sigurðarson

(Hjǫrungavágr c. 985)

c. 970-c. 995
Óláfr Tryggvason

(Svǫlðr c. 1000)

c. 995-c. 1000
Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson c. 1000-c. 1014
Sveinn jarl Hákonarson c. 1000-c. 1015
Hákon jarl Eiríksson c. 1014-c. 1015
Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (S. Óláfr)

(Nesjar 1016; Á in helga c. 1026; Bókn c. 1027; Stiklastaðir 1030)

c. 1015-1030
Sveinn Álfífuson/Knútsson c. 1029-1035

Kings of Denmark

Haraldr blátǫnn ‘Blue-tooth’ Gormsson c. 958- c. 988
Sveinn tjúguskegg ‘Fork-beard’ Haraldsson 986-1014
Haraldr Sveinsson 1014-1018
Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson (Cnut the Great) 1018-1035

Kings of Sweden

Bjǫrn Eiríksson c. 885-c. 935
Eiríkr inn sigrsæli ‘the Victorious’ Bjarnarson c. 935-c. 995
Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ (skötkonungr) Eiríksson c. 995-c. 1021
Ǫnundr Jákob Óláfsson c. 1021-c. 1050

Kings of England

Ælfred 871-899
Eadweard (Játvarðr/Eaðvarðr) 899-924
Æþelstan (Aðalsteinn) 924-939
Eadmund (Játmundr/Eaðmundr) 939-946
Eadred 946-955
Eadwig (Játvígur/Eatvígr) 955-959
Eadgar (Játgeirr/Eatgeirr) 959-975
Eadweard (Játvarðr/Eaðvarðr) 975-978
Æþelræd (Aðalráðr) 978-1016
Eadmund (Játmundr/Eaðmundr járnsíða ‘Ironside’) 1016
Cnut (Knútr inn ríki Sveinsson) 1016-1035

2. [Continued...]

The poetry of fifty-eight named skalds is edited in SkP I, while 217 stanzas or part-stanzas are anonymous. As the Biographies prefacing the work of each skald show, the lives of some of these, or at least the episodes relating to their poetic compositions, are well documented in prose sources. About others, however, especially those credited only with one or two lausavísur, nothing is known, not even their ethnicity. The earlier poets were Norwegian, and of the later ones the most prominent were Icelandic, or in a few cases Orcadian, though the traditional assumption that there were no Norwegians after c. 1000 is far from proven (Gade 2000, 75-6; Clunies Ross 2009a; and see the runic corpus in SkP VI). The names of most court poets are also transmitted in Skáldatal ‘Enumeration of Skalds’, a list of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish rulers and chieftains along with the skalds who honoured them with panegyrics. Skáldatal provides evidence both of skalds who are now unknown, with no extant poetry attributed to them, and skalds who are known, but who must have composed encomia for more patrons than their extant oeuvre suggests. Skáldatal lists a considerable number of poets serving the early kings of Denmark and Sweden, beginning with Starkaðr inn gamli ‘the Old’, poet to Danish kings, and including eleven poets for Eysteinn beli (meaning uncertain; SnE 1848-87, III, 270), but nothing survives of this poetry except for the magnificent Ragnarsdrápa of Bragi Boddason (Bragi RdrIII), preserved in SnE and edited in SkP III. Also listed but without extant poetry are the Norwegian Hákon jarl Grjótgarðsson, the Danish jarls Strút-Haraldr and Sigvaldi (SnE 1848-87, III, 280) and a number of Norwegian dignitaries (ibid., 285). By far the best-represented poet in the present volume is Sigvatr Þórðarson (early eleventh century), with 144 whole or part stanzas (as well as Bersǫglisvísur in SkP II), and there are over thirty stanzas each by Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, Þorbjǫrn hornklofi, Eyvindr skáldaspillir, Einarr skálaglamm, Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld (see also SkP V) and, from the later period, Hallar-Steinn and Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson. Poetry is attributed to five kings (Haraldr hárfagri, Hákon góði, Óláfr Tryggvason, Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson and the Danish Sveinn tjúguskegg) as well as to a jarl of Orkney (Torf-Einarr Rǫgnvaldsson) and an Orcadian bishop (Bjarni Kolbeinsson). Queen Gunnhildr is one of three women named as poets, the others being Hildr, whose single stanza (Hildr Lv) is an urgent plea for her son, and Jórunn, nicknamed skáldmær ‘Poet-maiden’, whose poem Sendibítr (Jór Send) unusually commemorates a conflict between King Haraldr hárfagri and his son and the reconciliation effected by the poet Guthormr sindri.

The literary and linguistic interest of this material, like its historical value, will be evident throughout SkP, and this volume contains great variety, as well as demonstrating the interest of subtle variation on recurrent themes and conventional techniques. The works of Sigvatr Þórðarson alone constitute a virtuosic anthology of skaldic genres and exhibit a stylistic and emotional range that is perhaps surprising in an art form whose social functions and technical requirements are so distinct, demanding and therefore potentially constraining.

Two major genealogical poems, Þjóð´ólfr ór Hvini’s Ynglingatal (Þjóð Yt) and Eyvindr skáldaspillir’s Háleygjatal (Eyv Hál), in some senses underpin the volume. Yt traces the early Yngling kings back to the pagan gods, and three somewhat later members of the dynasty, Haraldr hárfagri and his sons Eiríkr blóðøx and Hákon góði, each became the subject of a major praise poem composed in eddic metre and partially eddic style: Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Haraldskvæði (Þhorn Harkv), the anonymous Eiríksmál (Anon Eirm) and Eyvindr skáldaspillir’s Hákonarmál (Eyv Hák). Eyv Hál traces another great Norwegian dynasty, that of the jarls of Hlaðir (Lade, in present-day Trøndelag) back through the Háleygir of northern Norway and again to the gods. Anon Eirm and Eyv Hák use dialogue between ravens, valkyries and gods to depict the reception of their subjects, slain on the battlefield, into the warrior paradise of Valhǫll.

Many of the poems heap praise upon rulers living or deceased, normally using the intricate dróttkvætt metre. The most prestigious and most formal type of poem is the drápa, in which the long central section is punctuated by one or more stef ‘refrain(s)’ of resounding praise; the erfidrápa ‘memorial drápa’ is an important sub-type. The flokkr, lit. ‘group’, and sets of vísur ‘verses’ are also substantial poems often describing or enumerating specific campaigns and journeys. On skaldic forms see further Sections 3.1 and 4.1.5 of the General Introduction above.

Skaldic encomia may survey whole or part careers, or focus especially on significant battles. Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s resonant Glymdrápa (Þhorn Gldr) is acknowledged as standing near the beginning of this encomiastic tradition, and among the most fully preserved of its successors are Glúmr Geirason’s Gráfeldardrápa (Glúmr Gráf), Einarr skálaglamm’s magnificent Vellekla for Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (Eskál Vell), Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld’s Erfidrápa Óláfs Tryggvasonar (Hfr ErfÓl), Sigvatr’s Víkingarvísur (Sigv Víkv), Nesjavísur (Sigv Nesv) and Erfidrápa Óláfs helga (Sigv ErfÓl), all in praise of Óláfr Haraldsson, and the Knútsdrápur by Sigvatr and Óttarr svarti (Sigv Knútdr, Ótt Knútdr). Þórarinn loftunga’s Glælognskviða (Þloft Glækv) demonstrates the elasticity of the genre by presenting Sveinn Álfífuson (and posterity) with evidence of the cult of his predecessor S. Óláfr (Haraldsson). Among the less well-preserved but nonetheless fascinating encomia are Tindr Hallkelsson’s Hákonardrápa (Tindr Hákdr), a mesh of elaborate diction and formidable textual problems, Eyjólfr dáðaskáld’s Bandadrápa, which evidences pagan sympathies as late as the reign of Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014), and Sigvatr’s Erlingsflokkr (Sigv Erlfl), in which Sigvatr honours the memory of one who opposed his lord Óláfr. The anonymous Liðsmannaflokkr (Anon Liðs) captures the energy of fighters engaged in a campaign by the Thames, and may present the unusual situation of a group composition. Skaldic poetry also abounds with evocative and often precise descriptions of seafaring (cf. Jesch 2001), and some compositions amount to full-scale travelogue: Sigvatr’s witty and virtuosic Austrfararvísur and Vestfararvísur (Sigv Austv, Sigv Vestv), and Þórarinn loftunga’s Tøgdrápa (Þloft Tøgdr).

The non-contemporary historical poems tend to be relatively well preserved (though often only in a single manuscript). While steeped in established skaldic conventions, they present important literary developments, including a tendency towards a more strongly narrative treatment of the material. The evolution of the legend about the clash between the Norwegian jarls and Jómsvíkingar c. 985 can be traced in Þorkell Gíslason’s Búadrápa (ÞGísl Búdr) and Bjarni byskup Kolbeinsson’s Jómsvíkingadrápa (Bjbp Jóms), while Óláfr Tryggvason’s career and his fall at Svǫlðr c. 1000 are the subject of Hallar-Steinn’s metrically adventurous Rekstefja (HSt Rst). The anonymous Óláfs drápa Tryggvasonar (Anon Óldr) and the shorter Poem about Óláfr Tryggvason (Anon Ól) reflect contemporary devotion to the short-lived missionary king, and in Anon Ól, as in the final section of HSt Rst, we see the skalds extending their range (and the king’s reputation for assorted talents) to narrate engaging episodes involving rock-climbing and a saintly practical joke.

The lausavísur collectively enrich the corpus of poetry from this period with their diversity of topic and communicative function. Some, like the formal encomia, are occasioned by military actions, but often with greater immediacy (e.g. Hákg Lv, Eyv Lv 1-6, Glúmr Lv, ÞHjalt Lv 1-2, Eskál Lv 3, Þskúm Lv, Vígf Lv, Vagn Lv, Stefnir Lv 1, Eþsk Cpt, Gizsv Lv 1, Þorm Lv 18-25, Þorf Lv 2, OSnorr Lv, Anon (Styrb) 1-2, Anon (Fsk), Anon (ÓH)). Others, though not about famous battles, are equally serious in content and tone, arising from major hostilities or rivalries or manifestations of royal power and ambition (TorfE Lv 1-5, Gunnh Lv, EValg Lv, Ólhelg Lv 6-7, Sigv Lv 13-18, 20-5, 28-30, Eþver Lv, Hár Lv 1-2, Jǫk Lv 1-2, Anon (Ágr), Anon (Hhárf)). Still other lausavísur concern the attributes of rulers, life at court, or other aspects of the relationships between rulers and their skalds or warriors (e.g. Þjóð Lv 1 (a riposte to Hhárf Lv), Hákg Lv (a riposte to Eyv Lv 3), Eyv Lv 7-14, Eskál Lv 1a, 2a, Þjsk Lv 1-2, Sigv Lv 2-7, 9-11, 19, 26, Ótt Lv 1-2, Bersi Lv 1, Brúlf Lv, Þorm Lv 10-11, 15-16).

Three stanzas are cited within an anecdote about would-be womanising (Auðunn Lv, Ǫlvir Lv, Þhorn Lv), and others involve relationships with women (Þklypp Lv, Ólhelg Lv 2, 4-5, 8-9, Eindr Lv, Ótt Lv 3). Among other topics are encounters with pagans and sorcerers (Vitg Lv, Bárðr Lv, Anon (ÓT) 1-3). Several stanzas attest to the power of poetic utterances, whether to deliver pleas, warnings, incitement or slander (Þjóð Lv 2, Hildr Lv, Ólhelg Lv 3, Stefnir Lv 1, OSnorr Lv, Svtjúg Lv, Hhal Lv, Anon (ÓTHkr)). Finally, some lausavísur allow glimpses of the skalds and their patrons at leisure: drinking (ÓTr Lv), mocking a companion’s poor horsemanship (Ólhelg Lv 1, to which HalldR Lv is a riposte) or enjoying the spectacle of a dog steering a boat (Þór Lv). The set of stanzas from Vǫlsa þáttr (Anon (Vǫlsa)) that round off the volume departs from all previous topics to portray what happens when distinguished strangers encounter a farming household engaged in a curious ritual involving a horse phallus.

With the exception of much of the historical poetry, the poetic texts presented in this volume are editorial reconstructions from fragments, since they have not come down to us in complete, continuous form but as scattered excerpts. Authorship is only seldom problematic (see, e.g., the Introductions to Ótt Lv 3, Bersi Lv), but otherwise the reconstruction process is one of the most challenging aspects of skaldic editing. Most of the poetry edited in SkP I is preserved in the konungasǫgur ‘kings’ sagas’, works chronicling the lives of the kings of Norway, Denmark and the jarls of Orkney, or in the form of brief illustrative quotations in Snorra Edda (SnE) and other treatises on poetics and grammar (the sources concerned are detailed in Section 3 below). In the kings’ sagas, the poetry is interspersed with the prose, forming prosimetrum composition, and, broadly speaking, it is used in two ways. In most cases the stanzas document events narrated in the prose, and these are usually said by medieval compilers, or assumed by modern scholars, to have been extracted from extended encomiastic poems. In other cases, by contrast, the stanza forms an integral part of the narrative, often within þættir or shorter tales, but also occasionally within full-scale sagas. The skald is said to be present at the action, and to extemporise a stanza which either itself constitutes part of the action or comments on the action as it unfolds. Although some of the situations claimed are scarcely credible (an extreme instance being the attribution of Jǫk Lv 2 to Jǫkull Bárðarson at the moment when he is partially beheaded), such stanzas are generally assumed to have originated as lausavísur ‘loose stanzas’ or ‘freestanding occasional stanzas’.

Assigning stanzas to the categories of extended poems or lausavísur can nonetheless be problematic (see, e.g., Introductions to Torf-Einarr Lv 1-5, Sigv ErfÓl), and even stanzas that can be confidently assumed to comprise extracts from extended court poems can be difficult to assign to specific poems. This is often because the medieval prose works give conflicting indications about source poems (see, e.g., Introductions to Hfr Óldr, ÞKolb Eirdr). The ordering of stanzas within poems can also be uncertain where the evidence of neither their content nor the prose sources is decisive. The many stanzas preserved solely in the treatises on poetics and grammar, and hence without any narrative context, are particularly difficult to assign a place in extended poems. For problems and principles of reconstruction, see further the Introductions to individual poems and Section 3.1 ‘Reconstruction of skaldic poems’ in the General Introduction above. As noted in that Section, there are significant differences between this edition and Skj (and Skald) in the assigning of stanzas to poems and the numbering of stanzas within poems, partly because a more conservative approach has been adopted in SkP (an example is the designation of a certain stanza as Glúmr Gráf 2 in this edition, rather than assigning it to Glúmr EirIII on speculative grounds). On the other hand, editorial titles devised by Finnur Jónsson or others have often become traditional, and for the sake of convenience most of these are retained in the present volume, but it is always made clear in the Introduction to a poem whether its title is medieval or a modern construct.

Skáldatal survives in two slightly different redactions in manuscripts AM 761 a 4°ˣ (761aˣ, copied from Kringla (from c. 1260) by Árni Magnússon) and Codex Upsaliensis, DG 11 (U, c. 1300-25). See SnE 1848-87, III, 205-51.

Translations of nicknames of skalds are given, where possible, in the skald Biographies that precede their poetry.

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