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Runic Dictionary

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Ragnars sona þáttr (RagnSon)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Rory McTurk

part of: Ragnars sona þáttr

verse introduction manuscripts contents

This lausavísa (KrákÁsl Lv 11 (RagnSon 1)) is preserved in Ragnars sona þáttr ‘The Tale of the Sons of Ragnarr’ (RagnSon) in Hauksbók (Hb 1892-6, 466), where it is presented as spoken by Áslaug, second wife of Ragnarr loðbrók, on hearing the news of the death of Sigurðr ormr-í-auga ‘Snake-in-eye’ (see Ragn 8-10), one of her sons by Ragnarr. It may be compared with Ragn 17 and 30-1, in which Áslaug laments the deaths of two of her other sons by Ragnarr, Rǫgnvaldr (in Ragn 17) and Hvítserkr (in Ragn 30-1). As indicated in the Introduction to Ragn, it may have been present in the basic saga narrative underlying the X and Y redactions of Ragn as well as RagnSon, but it does not appear in either X or Y in their preserved forms. Its placing in RagnSon (compiled in all likelihood by Haukr Erlendsson (d. 1334), see ÍF 35, xliv) is moreover somewhat awkward: it occurs in the text at a marked distance from the account of events relating directly to Ragnarr loðbrók and his sons.

Whereas X appears to come to an end shortly after its account of the revenge taken on King Ælle (ON Ella) by Ragnarr’s sons for the death of their father (cf. the Introduction to Ragn) and makes no mention of their descendants, Y, in the first of its three chapters following the account of the revenge, briefly presents Sigurðr ormr-í-auga as the maternal grandfather of the Norwegian king Haraldr hárfagri ‘Fair-hair’ (Ragn 1906-8, 169). RagnSon, on the other hand, after its account of the revenge, presents Sigurðr as the paternal grandfather of the Danish king Gormr and then devotes a whole chapter to Gormr’s reign before returning in the following chapter, the fifth and final one in RagnSon, to an account of the circumstances of Sigurðr’s death and Áslaug’s recitation of the stanza (Hb 1892-6, 464-6). This chapter subsequently (Hb 1892-6, 466-7) presents Sigurðr ormr-í-auga as the maternal grandfather of another Sigurðr, Sigurðr hjǫrtr ‘Hart’, gives an account of the latter’s death comparable to the account of it also given in ch. 5 of Hálfds in Hkr (ÍF 26, 87-9), and finally presents Sigurðr hjǫrtr as the maternal grandfather of Haraldr hárfagri.

Ch. 5 of RagnSon (entitled in Hb Fall Sigurðar hjartar ‘The fall of Sigurðr hjǫrtr’) begins with an account of how Sigurðr ormr-í-auga, after harrying with two of his brothers in Francia, fell in a battle against the emperor Ǫrnúlfr, and how Helgi hvassi ‘the Keen’, the brother of Guðrøðr Óláfsson, who also fell in the battle, brought Sigurðr’s battle-standard, sword and shield home to Denmark, and gave the news of his death to Áslaug, who then recites this stanza. The chapter goes on to tell how Sigurðr hjǫrtr died at the hands of one Haki Haðaberserkr ‘the Berserk of the Haðar’.

The account in RagnSon of the battle against the emperor Ǫrnúlfr probably derives from German annalistic sources (Olrik 1894, 151, n. 1), and preserves a memory of the battle near Louvain in which, according to the Annales Fuldenses for 891, Arnolfus (d. 899), King of the Eastern Franks (and Holy Roman Emperor 896-9), utterly defeated the Northmen (Nordmanni), among whom two kings, Sigifridus and Gotafridus, were slain (Pertz 1891, 119-21; Reuter 1992, 12-3). It is possible that this Sigifridus was identical with a Danish king of the same name mentioned in the Annales Fuldenses for 873 (Vogel 1906, 410-12), who, it has been argued (McTurk 1991a, 39-50; 2011b, 3-17; 2013, 95-8), was a historical prototype of Sigurðr ormr-í-auga, son of Ragnarr loðbrók.

It is possible that the present stanza was not originally concerned with this Sigurðr. There is nothing in the stanza itself (not even the name Sigurðr in l. 4) that links it specifically with Sigurðr ormr-í-auga (contrast Ragn 8-10) or indeed with Sigurðr hjǫrtr, of whom little is known apart from what is told of him in RagnSon and in ch. 5 of Hálfds in Hkr (ÍF 26, 87-9). The stanza could originally have referred to either one of these namesakes, or to some other Sigurðr. The fact that it is nowhere else preserved in traditions relating to Ragnarr loðbrók, and that it is awkwardly placed in RagnSon between an account of the death of Sigurðr ormr-í-auga (itself awkwardly placed, see above) and an account of Sigurðr hjǫrtr’s death, gives the impression that the compiler of RagnSon was unsure to which Sigurðr it referred and uncertain where to place it. It is unambiguously attributed to Áslaug in RagnSon, it is true; on the other hand, it is considerably tidier metrically than most of the Ragn stanzas. In short, it cannot certainly be regarded as one of the stanzas relating to Ragnarr loðbrók, though Finnur Jónsson was no doubt right to print it immediately after those stanzas in Skj, and to date it, along with them, to the thirteenth century.

The stanza is edited here from AM 544 4° (Hb), where it appears on fol. 107r as part of the text of RagnSon, which is written on fols 105r-107v in the hand of Haukr Erlendsson. The remaining nine surviving mss of RagnSon, listed in the Introduction to the Ragn stanzas, are all assumed here to derive directly or indirectly from Hb, and have not been used in the present edition. Account has been taken of the editio princeps of RagnSon (RagnSon 1773), where its text appears in the left-hand column of each page, with a Latin translation by Jón Ólafsson of Svefneyjar (d. 1811) in the right-hand column. In addition to Skj and Skald, two other editions have been used in which the stanza is edited in isolation from its prose context: Rafn 1822 and CPB. The former has been found helpful for its commentary, the latter for its English translation. Use has also been made of the diplomatic text of RagnSon in Hb 1892-6, and of the normalised texts in FSN, RagnSon 1891 and FSGJ.

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