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Orms þáttr Stórólfssonar (OStór)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Peter Jorgensen

verse introduction manuscripts contents

Orms þáttr Stórólfssonar ‘The Tale of Ormr Stórólfsson’ (OStór) was composed possibly as early as the late thirteenth century, but more probably in the second or third quarter of the fourteenth (Faulkes 2011b, 35-6). It deals with the exploits of an historically attested hero, Ormr, son of Stórólfr Hœngsson, who lived in the south of Iceland in the tenth century. Both father and son are mentioned in Ldn (ÍF 1, 348, 353, 355) and are said there and in the þáttr to belong among the descendants of the settler Ketill hœngr ‘Salmon’. As a child Ormr proves to be both extremely strong and very unruly. After his Danish sworn brother Ásbjǫrn prúði ‘the Gallant’ Virfilsson is tortured and slain by the monster Brúsi on the island of Sauðey off the coast of Møre (ON Mœrr) in Norway, Ormr receives aid from the half-troll Menglǫð (Brúsi’s half-sister, whose mother was human) and slays Brúsi and Brúsi’s mother in a cave encounter. The first four chapters of OStór are similar in style to sagas of Icelanders and recount the hero’s youthful feats in Iceland, while the remaining six, which take place abroad, mainly in Norway, are reminiscent of fornaldarsögur. All the stanzas occur in the second, fornaldarsaga-like section of the þáttr.

Whoever composed OStór appears to have borrowed extensively from literary works that were probably already in existence, including Gr, Eg, Ǫrv and the poem Krákumál ‘The Speeches of the Crow’ (Anon Krm (Ragn)), as well as from existing oral traditions. Faulkes (2011b, 21-32) gives a detailed analysis of these borrowings. He also offers the opinion (2011b, 34) that ‘there is little to suggest that [the stanzas in the þáttr] are older than the prose, or that they are not by the author of the prose. Both prose and verse use the same sources (Grettis saga and Örvar-Odds saga)’.

OStór is preserved in three medieval manuscripts. The oldest is Flateyjarbók (GKS 1005 fol, Flat), where the þáttr forms part of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar (ÓT), in a section of the ms. thought to have been written between 1382-7. Flat is the base ms. for this edition. The other medieval mss are GKS 2845 4° (2845), a collection mainly of fornaldarsögur and þættir of c. 1450, and the fragmentary AM 567 V 4° (567V) of between 1450-1500 which contains no stanzas. The þáttr is also in AM 554 h ß 4°ˣ (554h ßˣ) of 1600-1700, a ms. that also contains Krók and Þórð, and in at least twenty-five other paper mss. Both 2845 and 567V go back to a ms. closely related to Flat, but 567V is quite corrupt, while 2845, despite a large number of obviously incorrect readings, contains in a few instances readings preferable to those in Flat. Because 554h ßˣ contains so many obviously corrupt readings, especially in the lists of heroes’ names in sts 9-10, not all of its variants in those stanzas are included here.

OStór contains twelve eight-line stanzas, rather clustered, the first in ch. 5, the second in ch. 6, and the remainder in ch. 7, with no intervening prose between sts 4-12. All lines end in a trochee, and sts 2, 4-8, and 11 are in an irregular dróttkvætt, with three stressed syllables per line, two alliterating staves in odd lines and one in even lines; however, only sts 7 and 8 contain the full complement of internal consonance and rhyme. Stanzas 1, 3, and 12 contain two stressed syllables per line, with each pair of lines sharing two alliterating staves (fornyrðislag). Stanzas 9 and 10 (except for the initial pair of lines, which are identical to those in sts 5-8 and 11), contain two stressed syllables per line, with l. 5 evidencing consonance and l. 8 full rhyme. Stanzas 4-12, often referred to as ‘Ásbjǫrn’s Death Song’, reveal a number of stylistic and thematic parallels with Krm, supposedly the death song of Ragnarr loðbrók.

Even though ÓStór is probably a product of the fourteenth century, and the stanzas may also date from that period, at least in their present form, the orthography of the text has been normalised to that of the period c. 1250-1300 in accordance with the policy of this edition (see Introduction to this volume). The text printed in Faulkes 2011b offers a partial normalisation to fourteenth-century conventions (see Faulkes 2011b, 36-7 for details).

The editio princeps of OStór is in an appendix (pp. 5-19) to the 1689 Skálholt edition of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar (ÓT 1689). In the same year Thomas Bartholin published the Icelandic text of ‘Ásbjǫrn’s Death Song’ with a Latin translation on pp. 158-62 of his Antiquitates Danicae. OStór has been edited in Fms 3, 204-28, Flat 1860-8, I, 521-32, Þorleifur Jónsson (1904, 199-222), Guðni Jónsson (1935, 169-93) and (1946-9, 11, 447-72) and Faulkes (2011b, 57-78). In addition, the stanzas but not their prose contexts appear in Skj A and B and Skald.

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